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Politics

Erdogan Dismisses Mob Head’s Claims as “Plot” Against Turkey

ANKARA, — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday said a series of severe allegations made against members of his entourage by a fugitive mafia boss were a plot against Turkey, and vowed to fight criminal gangs.

In a stream of videos posted on social media in recent weeks, convicted mob leader Sedat Peker has made stunning claims against ruling party figures that include alleged corruption, drug trafficking and a murder cover-up — maintaining there were close ties between senior officials and the underworld. 

Peker, who is believed to be currently residing in Dubai, has not so far produced documentary evidence to back up his allegations.

His accusations have targeted Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu, the son of former prime minister Binali Yildirim, and a convicted former interior minister as well as his son, who is a legislator from Erdogan's ruling party.

The YouTube videos, which have hit millions of views, have led to opposition calls for Soylu's resignation and for prosecutors to investigate Peker's claims.

Breaking his weeks-long silence over the allegations, Erdogan described them as a "devious operation" targeting the country and his rule.

"We will spoil these games, these plots. No one should doubt that we will disrupt this devious operation," Erdogan said, in an address to members of his ruling party. 

"We pursue members of criminal gangs wherever in the world they flee to. We will not leave these criminals alone until we bring them back to our country and hand them over to the judiciary," he said.

In his latest video released on Sunday, the 49-year-old crime boss who has been in and out of prison in Turkey, claimed that Yildirim's son, Erkam Yildirim, had traveled to Venezuela to stake out possible narcotics smuggling routes. Binali Yildirim firmly denied the allegation, insisting that his son, who owns a shipping company, had traveled to Caracas on a humanitarian mission to hand out COVID-19 testing kits and masks. 

In the video, the crime boss also claimed to have had a close relationship with Interior Minister Soylu, who allegedly provided him with a security detail and warned him about an investigation into his group. Peker also claimed that Soylu had sought his help in a bid to defeat a rival group within the ruling party, which is led by Erdogan's son-in-law. Soylu has denied the claims in television interviews and has filed a criminal complaint against Peker.

Erdogan said Wednesday he firmly stands by Soylu and Yildirim.

Other allegations by Peker have targeted former interior minister Mehmet Agar, and his son Tolga Agar, a lawmaker from the ruling Justice and Development Party. Peker claimed Tolga Agar was involved in the suspicious death of a Kazakh journalism student, Yeldana Kaharman, who had interviewed him and that her death was covered up as suicide following an alleged rape. The legislator rejects the accusation.

In continued allegations against the Agar family, the mob leader said Mehmet Agar was behind a series of political killings in the 1990s. Mehmet Agar had also, Peker claimed, illegally appropriated the marina in the upscale Aegean resort of Yalikavak from an Azerbaijani-Turkish businessman. Agar claimed that he had saved the marina from falling into the hands of crime gangs.

Peker's revelations have raised concerns over possible continued ties between state officials and illegal gangs. To many, they come has a grim reminder of the 1990s when Turkey was rocked by a scandal that was triggered by a car crash. The road accident in western Turkey killed a police chief and a wanted mafia hitman, and injured a member of Turkey's parliament — all riding in the same car — and revealed shady links between state actors and the underworld.

Peker is believed to have fled Turkey last year after getting wind of an operation against his group. 

It is unclear why the mafia boss — who has supported Erdogan by organizing political rallies in his favor and by making threats against his opponents — has turned against the government. 

Peker maintains that he was forced to speak out after his wife and two daughters were allegedly mistreated during a police raid on their home.

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