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Atatürk's yacht hits shoals of sex scandal

ISTANBUL — Daily News with wires | 9/29/2010 12:00:00 AM |

A historical yacht belonging to Atatürk will be delivered to the nation’s Culture Ministry after the boat became embroiled in a prostitution scandal involving underage girls. (UPDATED)

A historical yacht belonging to the founder of modern Turkey will be delivered to the nation’s Culture Ministry after the boat became embroiled in a prostitution scandal involving underage girls.

Culture and Tourism Minister Ertuğrul Günay demanded Wednesday that the yacht be turned over to his control.

The yacht, the Savarona, was used by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk and is currently the property of the Finance Ministry, which has rented the boat to businessman Kahraman Sadıkoğlu for 49 years.

Fourteen people onboard the Savarona were detained Monday in a raid on an alleged prostitution ring as the boat lay moored near the Mediterranean town of Göcek.

Those detained included foreign businessmen and underage girls brought from Russia and the Ukraine for high-cost prostitution. The girls were obtained through foreign modeling agencies, news wires said.

Among the suspects was an individual who said he was an adviser to Kazakhstan’s prime minister.

A prosecutor in Antalya in charge of organized crime said they had learned that the Savarona had twice before been used for prostitution.

The Savarona is a 136-meter yacht with 17 luxury suites built in 1931 for the daughter of Brooklyn Bridge chief engineer John A. Roebling. It was sold to Turkey in 1938 and used by Ataturk to host important guests before his death later that year.

In 1989, Turkish businessman Sadıkoğlu paid $60 million to the Finance Ministry for the rights to operate the Savarona for 49 years, daily Habertürk said. Sadıkoğlu rents the yacht to tourists for $30,000-$40,000 a day to help cover annual costs of more than $3 million, it said. Sadıkoğlu was in Iraq at the time of the raid and said he would evaluate the situation upon his return, Habertürk said.

İlhan Parseker, a board member of the Union of Chambers and Commodity Exchanges, or TOBB, called into question the boat's ownership after the raid, daily Hürriyet reported.

"The government has the right to re-nationalize the yacht as it was used outside of its purpose," Parseker said.

Parseker also said they heard that Sadıkoğlu had signed a preliminary contract with Russian interests to sell the boat to them, Anatolia news agency reported.

Hearing this, TOBB made a recommendation that the Savarona be turned into a museum rather than sold abroad.

“However, we have stopped following the issue because we learned that Treasury approval was needed to sell the boat and we thought the Treasury would not approve the sale to Russians,” Parseker said.

The Culture Ministry could consider turning the yacht into a museum, Günay told reporters Wednesday in Ankara.

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