TURKEY tr-diplomacy

Uzan row may worsen Turkey-France ties, reports say

ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily News | 10/20/2009 12:00:00 AM |

The asylum row over Turkish businessman Cem Uzan may further deteriorate diplomatic relations between Turkey and France, French media outlets say. French dailies recount the ‘good old days’ of the Uzan family and compare them with the stark contrast of its current situation. An Interpol search warrant has been issued for Uzan for fraud

The case of a Turkish businessman who asked to take refuge in France has come to the interest of the French media. Some reports say the asylum case might further worsen Turkey-France ties, which are already strained due to Paris’ stance toward Turkey’s EU membership bid.

“The case of asylum seeker Cem Uzan has the risk of inflaming the relations between Ankara and Paris a bit more,” said the conservative French daily Le Figaro. Uzan, head of the Young Party and a vocal opponent of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, has complained that he was a victim of “political lynching” in Turkey.

Le Figaro called Uzan an “ex-magnate” and the “Turkish Berlusconi.”

Uzan and some of his relatives have been charged with fraud by Turkish courts over the $6 billion collapse of a family bank. Motorola and Nokia are seeking $3.4 billion in unpaid debts for equipment, phones and services provided to Telsim, a Turkish mobile phone company the Uzan family once owned.

The conservative daily also said Bernard Valero, spokesman for the French Foreign Ministry, had confirmed last week that Uzan had “applied for asylum with the French Office for Protection of Refugees and Stateless [OFPRA].” His application gave Uzan a residence permit in France for three months. In Turkey, he was initially sentenced to three and a half years in prison for fraud.

[HH] Fantastic saga

The daily called the Uzan story a “fantastic saga,” adding: “The name of Uzan is associated with one of the most incredible sagas of Turkey. Before his sensational tumble, the Uzan clan was the head of an industrial empire, financial media and among the richest in the country.” It said in the early 2000s, the life of Cem Uzan, “the celebrity son,” was one of extravagance with a “luxury apartment on Fifth Avenue in New York, travel aboard his Boeing 747, evening champagne on his yacht.”

Le Figaro also recounted the fall of this empire of luxury. “But the legal problems of the Uzan family began in 2003 with the cancellation of a license for the distribution and generation of electricity due to irregularities. That was followed by the İmar Bank affair,” it said.

The report said research revealed a gap of 5 billion euros in the accounts of the bank and that 90 percent of deposits in the bank had been transferred to accounts abroad. “The state seized and dismantled the 219 companies of the Uzan Group, including the second biggest GSM operator in Turkey, Telsim. And despite a conviction in 2003 by U.S. courts for a loan that was never honored, Motorola and Nokia have still not recovered their $4.8 billion [owed to them by the Uzan Group],” said Le Figaro.

The daily further said: “Kemal Uzan, the father of the family, his brother and his youngest son have been also on the run. Cem Uzan, the Turkish Berlusconi, entered politics and led the Young Party, a populist party of the extreme right. A new trial was to begin this fall. On Wednesday, a Turkish court issued an arrest warrant against him, while Interpol issued a red bulletin for him on Saturday.”

The days that Cem Uzan socialized with Prince Charles seem distant, said another French daily, Le Monde. “Caught by the justice of his country, the flamboyant Turkish ‘tycoon’ is now a man on the run as the result of an arrest warrant issued Saturday, Oct. 17, by Interpol,” it said.

The daily also recounted the story of Uzan’s escape from Turkey. “Uzan, 49, vanished in early October. Threatened with arrest, he fled his country on a yacht shortly before landing on a Greek island. He applied for political asylum [in France.] The sulfurous and fleetingly [important] billionaire politician has obtained a temporary residence permit for three months while he waits for the decision by the French government on his request,” said Le Monde.

At the height of its glory, the Uzan clan controlled 220 companies in Turkey and about 40 others abroad in the fields of telecommunications, banking, construction, energy, media and real estate, reported Le Monde. “Its meteoric rise made it the fourth richest in the country. But the fraudulent bankruptcy in 2001 of the İmar Bank led the state to seize most assets and corporations belonging to the family,” it said.

Le Monde also describes the political career of Uzan as a “failure.” The daily wrote that the only reason for Uzan’s running for prime minister in the 2002 elections was to achieve the immunity offered to members of the Turkish Parliament. “To do this, he even created the Young Party, a nationalist and populist party,” wrote the newspaper.

Le Monde continued by saying, “Cem Uzan led a life on grand scale: yachts, sports cars, a Boeing 747 and properties in 11 countries including the top floor of the Trump Towers in New York, which he acquired for $38 million. He poured millions into the charities of the British royal family and was friends with Prince Charles.” Today, however, the daily added, Cem has joined his father Kemal and his brother Hakan as suspects in the embezzlement of billions of dollars.



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