Turkish ministers exposed in Paradise Papers sue journalist, newspaper

High ranking members of Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) are suing investigative journalist Pelin Ünker and her newspaper Cumhuriyet – not for inaccurate reporting, but for the “damage to their reputation” caused by their part in the international Paradise Papers investigation into offshore tax havens.

“Turkey’s former prime minister Binali Yildirim, and President Erdogan’s son-in-law and powerful treasury and finance minister Berat Albayrak, and members of their families have filed defamation actions against award-winning journalist and International Consortium of Investigative Journalists member Pelin Ünker and her newspaper, Cumhuriyet,” said an ICIJ article published on Monday.

The investigation by Ünker and Cumhuriyet, one of Turkey’s last remaining independent newspapers, had focused on “opaque dealings” by powerful individuals close to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

The complex web of businesses turned up in the reports suggests tax avoidance by these individuals.

They included Yıldırım, whose sons Erkam and Bülent were shown to be shareholders in five offshore companies in Malta, the ICIJ article’s writer Will Fitzgibbon said.

After refusing Cumhuriyet’s invitation to comment on the revelation, Yıldırım and his sons launched legal action against the paper claiming their personal rights had been damaged.

Berat Albayrak was also linked to the Paradise Papers through his brother Serhat Albayrak, listed as the director of another Malta company, Frocks International Trading Ltd.

The company was opened in 2003 and closed in 2009, at the same time “Berat and Serhat Albayrak were senior managers of Turkish textile, energy and media conglomerate Çalık Holding,” a company which grew rapidly throughout the AKP period.

Berat Albayrak accused the newspaper of “calumny” in response to the reports.

An international network of over 380 journalists has combed over the 13.4 million documents from tax havens leaked to German newspaper Suddeutsche Zeitung in the so-called “Paradise Papers” in 2017, exposing the activities of powerful individuals and companies in these areas.

While reports on British Queen Elizabeth II and Russian President Vladimir Putin made it to some Turkish press outlets, only Cumhuriyet and a few smaller newspapers published news on the country’s own leaders’ offshore dealings.