What’s behind the arrest of Turkish-Azeri billionaire?
23 Mar 2020

As Turkey grapples with the coronavirus pandemic, the March 17 arrest of Azeri-Turkish billionaire Mubariz Mansimov Gurbanoglu failed to draw the attention it deserves. Gurbanoglu was arrested on terrorism charges, part of what he alleges is a web of collusion between global energy giants and Turkish prosecutors.

Gurbanoglu, 52, was a former ally and alleged business partner of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s family. He is accused of operating on behalf of the Sunni cleric Fethullah Gulen. The high-flying Gurbanoglu, who owns one of the world’s largest fleets of oil tankers, is being held in Istanbul’s Silivri Prison and has yet to be indicted.

Turkish authorities say the Pennsylvania-based Gulen engineered the 2016 coup attempt.

Tens of thousands of people, including wealthy industrialists who rubbed shoulders with Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP), have been prosecuted and jailed over their alleged role in seeking his violent overthrow. Alleged membership in the Fethullah Terrorist Organization, or FETO, as it’s referred to in Turkey, has become a catchall for rounding up Erdogan’s enemies, real and perceived, and a way to extort large sums of money from businesspeople, rights groups say.

Erdogan and Gulen were informal coalition partners until they had a falling-out over power and profit. As their alliance unraveled, Gulen’s followers in the police force launched a graft probe against Erdogan in December 2013 that was swiftly squashed. Investigating police and prosecutors were fired, and many of them were jailed.

What is unusual about Gurbanoglu’s case is that he was investigated and cleared of possible Gulen connections last year. Prosecutors said in a May 2019 ruling that they could not find any evidence linking him to Gulen’s network.

Why has Gurbanoglu been jailed for the same offense? The answer, according to Gurbanoglu, is clear: money. Gurbanoglu blamed Russian energy giant Lukoil and Azerbaijan’s state oil company, SOCAR, for his plight, in a Feb. 2 letter addressed to Erdogan after learning of the new probe. Their aim, he said, was to intimidate and coerce him into dropping cases he had filed against both companies in a London court.

Gurbanoglu said in the letter — posted on his Instagram account after his arrest — that a Lukoil executive had tipped him off in early December about the alleged conspiracy. Gurbanoglu said he was prepared to share the executive’s identity with authorities and that the latter would testify on his behalf.

The executive had, according to Gurbanoglu, told him that that Lukoil and SOCAR had “bribed many judicial authorities in Turkey and issued instructions to get me jailed, to inflict ruin on me and my companies and to take them over.” The person at the fore of these efforts, according to the Lukoil man, was SOCAR President Rovnag Abdullayev, Gurbanoglu said.

In a March 18 statement, SOCAR denied all the claims: “The detention of Mubariz Mansimov by the Turkish law enforcement agencies has nothing to do with the arbitration processes to be held in London [and] SOCAR believes in the effectiveness of the Turkish justice system and unequivocally rejects the possibility of interference in judicial process.”

By Amberin Zaman, Al-Monitor, 20 March 2020

Read more at Al-Monitor

Photo (edited): President.az / CC BY 4.0

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