The Turkish Misadventure
09 Aug 2009 16:47
Fishy story: Images from Turkish television report.
By AFSIN YURDAKUL in New York | 9 Aug 2009
In October 2008, an Iranian businessman named Esmael Safarian-Nasab shipped four containers full of cash and gold worth $18.5 billion from Iran to Turkey, its next door neighbor, via Germany without declaring the wealth at German customs nor upon delivery at Ankara. Why?
According to his Turkish attorney, Senol Ozel, Safarian-Nasab failed to declare the value of the shipment because he had "worries that he would be bothered." Two business partners, or "couriers" as Turkish television reports called them, were scheduled to pick up the containers at the airport, but "ran away" when Turkish customs officers stopped the containers for a security check. The Turkish customs agents discovered cash and gold worth nearly the total GDP of the 20 poorest countries in the world.
Akin to a Hollywood thriller, these are the yet-to-be-proven claims of Nasab's lawyer, who has taken up a considerable amount of airtime in national Turkish news channel, Kanal D, last week.
According to Turkish journalist Ibrahim Yazici who first broke the story, what made Ozel's claims even more intriguing was a recent speech by Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish Prime Minister.
Erdogan victoriously spoke of the amount of foreign investment his country received in 2008, despite the global economic downturn. This amount, as he pronounced, was close to $18.5 billion, a number that seems to match Ozel's claims at the outset.
For many critics of the ruling party, this seemed to provide a great leverage to press hard on AKP's economic policies.
However, earlier in the week, Hayati Yazici, a Turkish State Minister, dismissed the claims as "false and baseless," according to Turkish state news agency. He firmly denied that the so-called containers of cash and gold entered Turkey.
Soon after, the Iranian government followed suit, and the Intelligence Ministry "urged media outlets to avoid disseminating unconfirmed reports," according to Tehran Times, an Iranian newspaper.
Things are also quiet on Ozel's front, who has been promising that his Iranian client will pay a visit to the foster home of his billions to present evidence in a press conference.
As the public waits for such evidence, the thriller seems to have come to a dead end for the time being. But still, many questions remain.
First, Ozel needs an explanation to prove the veracity of his claims. In Yazici's report, Ozel provided evasive answers. Most pressingly, he doesn't explain why, if it's true, his client failed to declare the alleged wealth at the customs in Germany or Turkey.
It is unrealistic to expect that a lawyer wouldn't realize this would be by definition illegal, but instead he dismissed the question, saying that he is "not aware of the international dimension of the situation."
Ozel says Nasab wanted to benefit from Turkish legislation that eases restrictions on foreign investment. However, that law officially came into effect last year in November, a month before the date Ozel claims the wealth entered Turkey.
Other claims made by Ozel seem to have similar logical flaws; especially regarding the breakdown of the wealth. He argued that his client flew in a total of $18.5 billion -- $7.5 billion cash and the remaining $ 11 billion in 20 metric tons of gold, but Amir Fardi, a retired Iranian World Bank economist, says those numbers are "incredible." Fardi did the math, and says that that much gold adds up to only $500 million, less than one-twentieth of the amount Ozel claims. Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hasan Qashqavi seconded Fardi.
In light of the existing reports in the Turkish media and Ozel's silence, the story of the alleged billions traveling across the borders remains sketchy at best. That is why Fardi believes the story doesn't deserve merit, and only helps distract the world's attention from the political turmoil in Iran.
"That should be our focus," Fardi says, "to prove that this election was fraud."
Copyright (c) 2009 Tehran Bureau