Turkish minister confirms investigation report on key graft figure

Turkish minister confirms investigation report on key graft figure

Bülent Sarıoğlu - ANKARA
Turkish minister confirms investigation report on key graft figure The Customs Ministry’s inspection board has prepared a report about the suspicious activities of companies tied to one of the central figures in the 2013 graft probe, Interim Customs Minister Cenap Aşçı has said, suggesting that the firms violated rules on the trading of Turkish currency.

Additional inspection on companies was demanded by the Undersecretariat of the Treasury as well as the finance and economy ministries, Aşçı said in response to a question by the Republican People’s Party (CHP), without mentioning Reza Zarrab’s name. 

CHP deputy Levent Gök had asked about the government’s measures regarding an investigation file by the Customs Ministry over the controversial activities of Zarrab following a daily Hürriyet report. 

The ministry report said the import and export activities of several companies belonging to Zarrab, a controversial Iranian-Turkish businessman, were suspicious and should be investigated for possible money laundering, tax evasion and foreign trade manipulations. 

The report, which was prepared upon an order from then-Customs Minister Hayati Yazıcı after the huge corruption probe that went public on Dec. 17, 2013, mentioned “highly suspicious” customs transactions in Zarrab’s companies, which should be investigated by the Economy Ministry, the Finance Ministry, the Financial Crimes Investigative Board (MASAK), and the Undersecretariat for the Treasury.

In particular, there is considerable suspicion about more than 100 tons of transit bullion trade made by Zarrab’s companies over the course of two years with several companies. 

“Customs and Trade Chief Inspector Mehmet Eryılmaz, who was assigned to investigate suspicious gold exporting, importing and transiting companies in 2011 and 2013 in line with the regarded regulations after a series of risk analyses, prepared a report, numbered 052-13, on Aug. 8, 2014,” Aşçı said. 

After the investigations of two gold importing companies and four gold exporting companies, further investigations were demanded from the Undersecretariat of the Treasury, Finance Ministry and Economy Ministry in line with the regulations on foreign currency, foreign trade, taxes and the fight against money laundering, he added. 

Huge ‘cash flow to Russia’

“After a notification by the Federal Customs Center Protection Unit of the Russian Federation about a big volume of cash flow from Turkish citizens into Russia, the Istanbul Trafficking and Intelligence Unit’s Customs Protection Directorate launched a criminal complaint against 14 persons within the framework of the Law on the Protection of the Turkish Currency’s Value and the Fight against Money Laundering. It was seen as beneficial to submit the issue to the Undersecretariat of the Treasury to make a further examination to see whether these transactions were in violation of the Law on the Protection of the Turkish Currency’s Value as these people declared big amounts of foreign currency to Russia’s Customs Administration between June and September 2010. Then, upon several suspicions about the relation between this money and the gold trade, the prior declarations at Istanbul’s Atatürk Airport were examined,” he said. 

The report detailed the import and export of gold, and money transfers among Turkey, Iran, China, the United Arab Emirates and Russia between companies affiliated with Zarrab from 2011 and 2013. It highlighted the trade of over 100 tons of gold bullion between Zarrab’s companies as “highly suspicious,” as reported by Hürriyet. 

Upon Aşçı’s detailed response, Gök submitted a new parliamentary question to Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu. 

“What sorts of investigations have been conducted by the Undersecretariat of the Treasury, the Customs and Trade Ministry, the Finance Ministry and the Economy Ministry up until now? Have any criminal investigations been launched? If not, why?” Gök asked.

The December 2013 corruption investigations centered on Zarrab and several figures close to the government.