Meral Akşener, leader of Turkey’s centre-right Good Party, on Saturday highlighted recent claims accusing President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of embezzling a billion euros ($1.1 billion) through a public tender in 2007.
A video shared late on Friday by the journalist Cevheri Güven, who is living in exile in Germany, has reawakened debates on widespread corruption in the Turkish government.
The latest allegations against Erdoğan have been made by Ali Yeşildağ, the brother of one of Erdoğan’s closest confidants Hasan Yeşildağ, a man with a dark history, who has served time for drug trafficking in Switzerland.
In 1998, Erdoğan himself was sentenced to 10 months imprisonment for a speech he made in the southeastern province of Siirt. It is reported that at that time Hasan Yeşildağ committed a crime with the sole aim of being put in the same prison with Erdoğan so he could serve as his bodyguard.
The close relations between the Turkish president and the Yeşildağ family continued throughout the years. In 2017, another brother and member of Erdoğan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) Zeki Yeşildağ bought a media group that included the pro-government Star, Akşam and Güneş newspapers.
The video shared by Güven was the first of a seven day series according to the journalist. In the video, Ali Yeşildağ, who is reported to be residing in a foreign country, explains corruption related to the operation of Antalya airport in southern Turkey, one of the country’s major tourist destinations.
Ali Yeşildağ claims that he helped Çelebi Aviation Holding to win the public tender for the ground services of the airport in 2007 in exchange for $30 million, making contact with Mücahit Arslan, another person close to Erdoğan, who according to Yeşildağ said that such tenders had been decided from “above”.
Arslan allegedly persuaded Yeşildağ to work for him and bring information about Çelebi Holding’s offer, which according to Yeşildağ, they planned to raise as high as 5 billion euros ($5.6 billion).
Yeşildağ claims that Çelebi was excluded from the tender at the last minute over some missing documents and the tender was handed to another group which paid 3 billion euros ($3.3 billion) to handle operations at Antalya airport.
According to Yeşildağ, Erdoğan embezzled a billion euros for awarding the tender to TAV Airports Holding, one of the world’s largest airport operators. However, Yeşildağ provides no evidence of his claims apart from his own account of events.
At the time, Çelebi Holding contested the public tender, but their claims were dismissed by the then chair of Turkey’s state airports administration.
Akşener talked about the video during a rally of the six-party Nation Alliance in İstanbul, saying the allegations had been made by close friends of Erdoğan.
“Mr. Recep, Mr. Recep… The tape is there waiting. You have to investigate those claims. You are the president. Go and question this video instead of swearing at us. Who pocketed this million dollars? According to Ali Yeşildağ’s claims, it was you who pocketed it,” Akşener said.
On Saturday, Güven further shared a notice sent to him by YouTube notifying him that they had blocked the video in Turkey in response to a legal complaint made by the government.
In response, Güven immediately shared a second video of Ali Yeşildağ on his YouTube channel.
Erk Acerer, another journalist living in Germany, claimed on Friday night that Ali Yeşildağ decided to talk two years ago after he had a fall-out with his brothers, who cut him out from the family’s wealth.
Pro-government accounts on Twitter on Saturday accused Ali Yeşildağ of cooperating with the Gülen movement (aka FETÖ), a religious group that Turkey accuses of orchestrating a failed coup attempt in 2016 and labels as a terrorist organisation.
Güven, who has a very popular YouTube channel, has been attacked by the pro-government media for months over alleged ties to the Gülen movement.
The Yeşildağ family in a statement on Saturday called the allegations “lies and defamation,” pointing out that it had been shared by “FETÖ fugitive” Güven. The statement claimed that terrorist organisations have been releasing videos and other materials ahead of the 14 May polls to influence election results.
“Though Ali Yeşildağ is a member of our family, he has no organic ties with the family, and it is well-known that he has escaped arrest so far despite sentences he has received from courts in Bursa, Ankara and İstanbul for armed robbery, first degree murder, conspiracy to murder, defamation and other similar serious crimes,” the statement said.
The family said in the statement that Ali Yeşildağ had acted in revenge against his own family, and declared that they will seek their legal rights in court.