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The Turkish Misadventure

09 Aug 2009 16:473 Comments

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

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Old article but, quite imporatnt now in 2009. The writer was killed in 2004 in Moscow. "Millionaire Mullahs" by Paul Klebnikov, (7.21.2003) A nuclear threat to the rest of the world, Iran is robbing its own people of prosperity. But the men at the top are getting extremely rich. http://www.forbes.com/forbes/2003/0721/056_print.html

worldcitizen09 / August 9, 2009 7:31 PM

Such theft should be the focus because while the mullahs are murdering our people in Iran, they have and continue to take billions abroad and this includes the entire criminal family, especially such traitors, as khamenei, ahmadi, rafsanjani, khatami and mousavi and the rest of the clan. The only solution is to rid Iran from islam and mullahs in order to establish a true Democracy were all individuals have a voice and vote that actually counts.

worldcitizen09 / August 9, 2009 7:40 PM

Why do you keep reporting the total as 18.5 billions dollars. The gold was/is worth only $700 million. So, if the story with the cash portion is even right, the total is just over 8 Billion.

When you don't check your facts, which takes only a simple (+ - x /) calculator, it makes all your reporting suspect. 20 tons is worth $700 million at $960/troy oz. price.

20 tons is 20 million grams, and 31.1 grams make a troy ounce. So, do the math for $960/troy ounce price. It is just over 700 million dollar.

So, please explain how you get the $18.5 Billion figure. Was it 200 tons of gold? that would be 10 tractor trailers, 20 tons each. It would be crazy to assume that can pass through customs in one fell sweep.

What other facts in your stories are false?

Samanou / August 10, 2009 9:48 PM