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Police report burns Turkey's customs house chief

ISTANBUL - Radikal | 1/9/2011 12:00:00 AM |

Police say they have uncovered a broad smuggling and bribery ring centered in the country's customs houses after a nine-month investigation. The ring falsified official documents, solicited bribes from smugglers and importers and was involved in bringing large amounts of smuggled cigarettes into the country

The manager of the Istanbul Customs House, who holds responsibility for all the country’s customs houses, has been detained in an investigation into allegations of bribery and other illegal activities.

The Istanbul Police Department first noticed evidence of smuggling in June, and distributed an internal intelligence memo sparking the investigation. Along with Manager Lütfi Ekinci, 32 other customs house branch managers have been taken into custody.

The intelligence memo reported suspicion that a special team of 20 people were operating a smuggling and bribery organization with Ekinci and also intervened at the borders by allowing smuggled goods to enter the country.

The operation, started by the Bakırköy Chief Prosecutor’s Office, resulted in the arrests of Ekinci, Atatürk Airport Cargo Terminal Manager Hayrettin Eter, Istanbul Smuggling Intelligence and Narcotic Customhouse Manager Çoşkun Cihanoğlu, and 30 others on Saturday. A large amount of money was recovered from suspects; some attempted to get rid of the cash by flushing it down a toilet.

Many of those detained were originally from the southeastern provinces of Hatay, Kilis and Gaziantep. Ekinci is from Kilis, on the Syrian border.

Police reported that the group’s main meeting spots were the Karaköy Customs Diagnosis Association and certain cafes in Istanbul’s Karaköy, Florya and Acıbadem districts. During their meetings, ring members discussed appointments to critical spots, false notifications to be made and import records to be falsified.

In one incident of alleged smuggling, 36 truckloads of tea were allowed into the country via Istanbul’s Halkalı district, with official forms registering their cargo as carbonate. After the trucks loaded with tea entered the country, the customs entry was switched to say that the cargo was actually glassware. Ayhan Çarkın, convicted of involvement in a 1996 car crash scandal, is alleged to be the mastermind of this particular scheme and is further accused of involvement with the smuggling ring as part of the “deep state.”

The police also reported that the bribery ringleaders live off their ill-gotten gains in villas in Istanbul’s Florya district. They posit that cigarette smuggling is more profitable than heroin smuggling. Cigarettes are apparently often smuggled into the country via the Halkalı Customs House, where the administration cooperates with teams of smugglers.

Osman Ecemen, the brother of Yaprak TV owner Mehmet Ali Yaprak, who was also suspected of involvement in the 1996 scandal, was one of the figures apprehended on suspicion of cigarette smuggling.

Police said they have records of who received bribes at each port. All of the money was allegedly collected under the name of Ekinci, and a share was also sent to a department head in Ankara.

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