’s latest scandal the country’s leadership is accused of conspiring with a pro-government paramilitary force to divert aid intended for the Turkish minority in Syria, to extremist groups linked to al-Qaeda and Hayat Tahrir al-Sham.
The revelations came out in the eighth video that Sedat Peker, reputed crime boss and fugitive, has released slamming the government for corruption and failings.
The story of how Peker, who has been described as an ultra-nationalist once close to the ruling AK Party of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, had fallen out with the regime is complex. It is one of many instances where the ruling party’s quest for absolute power in Turkey has alienated many of those once close to it.
To understand what is happening in modern Turkey is to watch how one political party was able to achieve absolute power and then worked to remove a series of “enemies” in a Stalin-like purge of Turkish society.
The AK Party began with targeting secular and left-wing protesters. After crushing the Gezi Park demonstrations, the party set its sights on destroying the Kurdish HDP opposition, using two elections in 2015 to provoke the end of the ceasefire with the militant PKK.
A war began, fueled by Turkey’s growing nationalism and Islamist movements. During the war, Turkey empowered ISIS in Syria, turned on the US, bought Russia’s S-400 and began to support the most right-leaning Syrian rebel groups, to co-opt them as part of Turkey’s expansion into Syria. This began with invasions in 2016 near Jarabulus and then again in 2017 in Idlib, and Afrin in 2018, where 170,000 Kurds were expelled.
Turkey’s regime used a coup attempt in 2016 to purge some 200,000 people, taking control of the judiciary, academics and other parts of society. Independent and critical media were shut down, and Turkey became the largest jailer of journalists. Mass trials of political opponents began, with HDP members jailed, 60 HDP mayors dismissed, generals accused of various plots, police purged, and students and LGBT activists called terrorists.
The state also went after a group linked to a foreign cleric called Gulen and invented a mythical “FETO terrorist group” it said was linked to him. Adnan Oktar, who ran a TV station and was a reputed cult leader, was also jailed by the regime, despite reputed ties in prior years.
Now after all that it seems the regime has turned on its own supporters, some of whom are accused of being criminals and mafia bosses. Peker was formerly known as a “Turkish mafia boss” with connections at the highest levels.
Kurdistan 24 said in 2017 that “Peker developed closer ties with the government in recent years. In June 2015, the gang leader was photographed having a conversation and shaking hands with Erdogan at the wedding in Istanbul of an infamous pro-government social media troll who had posted the picture of a butcher cleaver as ‘the best way to communicate’ with Kurdish rebels.”
Things began to change earlier this year and Peker began to make videos in which he vowed to expose state corruption and other dealings. The revelations have included stories of drug-trafficking linked directly to the top layers of government.
On May 23 one report noted that “in a new YouTube video, the mafia boss in a self-imposed exile has continued making allegations against people close to the government. Former Prime Minister Binali Yildirim’s son is at the center of his drug trafficking allegation.”
In his videos last week Peker took on the Interior Minister.
BBC noted that “on Sunday May 23 Turkish police detained Sedat Peker’s brother Atilla in Mugla province, on the Aegean coast, after Sedat claimed he had sent Atilla to kill Turkish Cypriot journalist Kutlu Adali in 1996. Adali was shot dead in Cyprus, but his killers were never identified.
According to Sedat Peker, the hit on Adali had been ordered by ex-interior minister Mehmet Agar. He also alleged that Mr. Agar was linked to the murder in 1993 of Ugur Mumcu, another prominent journalist. Mumcu, an investigative journalist for Cumhuriyet daily, was killed by a car bomb.”
In the latest video on Sunday, Peker made accusations “about the weapons sent to Syria and the illegal trade carried out on the Syrian border,” according to various accounts in Turkey.
He said that those around Erdogan have misled the president.
“I was there when you had no power. They did not have any power. I did not expect applause, I was not in the foreground. I did whatever I could. We will talk together in the next video,” he said.
Peker referenced Qatar and Azerbaijan in his videos, according to a transcript at Sol TV in Turkish.
Turkey has sent troops to Qatar to support the Emirate and it is a close ally of Doha. Turkey also sent Syrian mercenaries to support Baku in a war against Armenia.
Peker referenced a “military unit” in Qatar and “sub-companies” in Azerbaijan. He also mentioned a “ship carrying goods going to Israel” and Qatari money
for “Palestine.” It was not clear exactly what this connection was about.
He also spoke about Syria in his latest video. He said that weapons and military supplies sent to Turkmen in Syria were given to Al Nusra.
This is a group that was linked to al-Qaeda in Syria and is now called Hayat Tahrir al-Sham and controls Idlib in Syria. Turkey has worked with this group in the past, but distinguishes it from the Turkish-backed Syrian rebels called TFSA, a group Turkey openly backs.
Peker blamed a paramilitary contracting company called SADAT that is close to the Turkish ruling party for diverting aid sent by Peker to Syria. He also mentioned illegal commerce and oil trades, for which he named one man, linked to the presidency, as dealing in.
Peker spoke about aid convoys he had sent and arranged for Syria. As a nationalist, he supported Turkmen minorities in Syria. While he helped get he goods for the convoys, he said they were diverted.
Peker claimed that trade with Syria was carried out through al-Nusra and the team led by Berat Albayrak, “Where is the money going from the trade,” he asked.
Peker implied that Turkey has mishandled its role in Syria because well intentioned support was diverted or corrupted. He spoke of commercial and economic possibilities that have been diverted as well. He linked this with a controversy in 2014 when Turkish Intelligence Organization (MIT) trucks were stopped near the Turkish-Syrian border, revealing that Turkey was supplying weapons to Syria.
Peker said he was asked to help aid Turkmen and he brought them funds for trucks.
“Something happened in my mind after the MIT trucks were caught. We are there to raise the feelings of the society and to help our brothers there, to the Turkmens, for the clothes, but there was too much, enough for all the fighters there. From the radios to drones to the armored vests, there are the trucks [full of the material we sent]. We thought about this project, we conveyed that to our [government] deputy [minister] friend, and he also conveyed it to the places that he should convey. Then they said, we’ll give you additional trucks, along with your trucks….They sent weapons between our trucks via SADAT.”
It appears that SADAT, linked to the government, was able to take control of this trade across the border and divert vehicles to al-Nusra, which became HTS.
The Sol TV article claimed “they sent weapons, vehicles to al-Nusra….’I buy all of them with my own money…it goes on my behalf, there is no transaction, no registration, direct transition is made. Then when I started to send a large amount of Mitsubishi vehicles, they said, can you give it to us, I said okay.’”
What happened with the vehicles?
“Our Turkmen friends said they are Al Nusra. Allah Allah ... Our other friends also say that these departures are going to al-Nusra. Yes. They send it…but I did not send it by SADAT members.”
Peker said it is time to open the Pandora’s Box.
“Now, do you know what you need to do to do business in Syria?”
He named various people linked to the government.
“I’m not talking about such a business, big, illegal crude oil, tea, sugar, aluminum, copper, second-hand vehicles. Billions of dollars of money. Who gave the money for the Syrian struggle? The state. Who was martyred? I will now describe the trade that is done there….After you get the approval from there, there is the [business] group…the whole hierarchy is there. After their approval, al-Nusra has the chief of economy.”
The implication is that while the government supported the Syrian rebels, its huge economy was diverted to work with extremists in Syria and these corrupted funds never made it back to the Turkish state, but were siphoned off. They even stole from the mafia, that is how corrupt some of the state authorities were.
“Should we enter Syria? Enter. Stay. Stay, but why does the money never come to the state, the money is still going there. But there is a trade there, big money is made. Crude oil, copper, aluminum,” said Peker.
“In the last four years, there are so many big holdings, institutions and organizations in this country, they all passed to this company.”
He accused the Interior Minister of knowing about this. He then referenced five or ten families who won tenders in Libya after the government sent Syrian mercenaries there in 2019 and 2020.
“I had an interesting incident. It is very important that we are in Libya, [the deal is called the] Blue Homeland.”
The article then references Tripoli-based Libyan leader Fayez Sarraj who approved the Turkish role in Libya.
News and details about Ankara’s role in Libya and support for extremists have gone back years. Back in 2017 Hurriyet noted that HTS forces had escorted a Turkish convoy in Idlib.
It should raise eyebrows that a writer noted: “The reason why is because Tahrir al-Sham is a Salafist network that was formed in early 2017 by merging a number of Syrian groups including al-Nusra, which is labeled a terror organization. Nusra is a group that was formed as a Syrian offshoot of the Afghan-rooted al-Qaeda. However, Nusra cut ties with al-Qaeda in 2016.”
We now know that the real story may go much deeper, Ankara not only profited off illegal trade when ISIS ran part of Syria, but continued to do nefarious deeds in Syria after the Turkish invasion in Euphrates Shield. This transformed northern Syria into a dumping ground for extremists, and funneled or diverted supplies and aid to extremists, making the rebels dependent and empowering HTS. That Turkey did this via companies set up by those close to the regime, and via private military contractors diverting aid, even aid sent by reputed mafia bosses, shows how entangled the regime, has been with criminality and profiting off Syria’s suffering while fueling extremist groups.