SBK in Europe unscathed - who protected the Turkish businessman in Congo?

In a previous article, I wrote about Turkish businessman Sezgin Baran Korkmaz (SBK) being detained in the Congolese capital Kinshasa for hours, only to be released after Turkey’s ambassador to the country, Salih Boğaç Güldere, intervened. SBK returned to Paris the next day, on Jan. 21.

Ambassador Güldere is said to have called Congolese Foreign Minister Marie Tumba Nzeza to demand the release of SBK, telling her that the businessman wasn’t wanted in Turkey and mentioning human rights and freedoms.

However, local Congolese sources share a document with Ahval showing that from the same Turkish embassy to the Congolese Foreign Ministry on Jan. 21 sent a letter that acknowledges an outstanding arrest warrant against the businessman in connection with the laundering property derived from crime, and presents a version of the order issued by an Istanbul penal court translated into French. It appears the Turkish ambassador only showed Congolese authorities the arrest order  after SBK left the country in an apparent a bid to get legal cover.

I wrote in previous article that SBK was staying in Congo with Lebanese businessman Saleh Assi, who was sanctioned by the United States in December 2019 for money laundering for Hezbollah, which is designated a terrorist organisation by the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Israel, Germany, and the Arab League.

Assi had much of its assets frozen, and was struggling to secure goods for his large-scale companies following the sanctions. However,  SBK’s close business partners Cüneyt Özen and Kamil Feridun Özkaraman came to the rescue in 2020,  offering him the Mikado Investment and Business Development Co., which was established back in 2016. The Lebanese businessman remains afloat thanks to all the goods Mikado is able to procure from around the world. 

The records also show Özen and Özkaraman aren’t the only shareholders in Mikado Investment, as had been previously thought. According to official registration documents, Auto Land Automotive Co., also owns Mikado shares, and is in turn owned by SBK himself.

Auto Land
Turkish Official Registry Gazette showing Auto Land one of the share holders of the Mikado Investment.

So, it wasn’t only SBK’s partners and Mikado Investment that were involved in the scheme allowing Saleh Assi to work around U.S. sanctions, but SBK directly through a company he owned.

SBK was with Assi on Jan. 20 when the house was raided. He was detained for more than six hours, in which time the Turkish Embassy pleaded with the Congolese authorities. Now we can prove that, on Jan. 21 however, on the same day SBK left Congo for Paris along with Saleh Assi, the Turkish Embassy asked for his extradition back to Turkey and presented an arrest warrant to the Congolese authorities.

Now that the business in Congo and his detention and release have come to light, we need to turn our attention to who and why Ankara asked the Turkish ambassador to rescue SBK instead of extraditing him to Turkey. THis is important because these are the channels and networks that likely benefit from the trade SBK and Hezbollah’s money launderer were engaged in.

There are also a number of questions still to be answered . For example, how did Assi pay Mikado, or SBK, when sanctions stopped him from carrying out banking transactions. Did SBK have to take the risk of going to Congo in person at a time he is a wanted man due to a money laundering investigation to collect this debt? We don’t know.

 It is believed that the relations between Assi and Mikado continue. SBK will now have to recalculate whether he wants to return to a country where his home was raided, or whether he still wants to  invest.

Another significant question is this: Who introduced Assi to SBK? The duo quickly became close, and it is now known that Assi stayed at SBK’s home when he visited Istanbul, when not staying at the ultra-luxury Kempinski hotel, according to local sources.  This is an important question, because whoever introduced the two men is probably the one who protected SBK in Congo –  an ambassador would never intervene on his own volition and therefore must have been acting in line with orders from Ankara.

Whoever intervened in Congo, must be the same network of people who benefited from the business ties between Assi and SBK. Who was it in Turkey that got Hezbollah’s money launderer off the hook, and who arranged for him and SBK to circumvent U.S. sanctions together?

We don’t know yet. But the arrow points to somebody very close to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, somebody who is also close with SBK, who worked for him in the past, and possibly introduced him to Erdoğan. There are figures we know that fit this description. But we cannot name names until we have proof, at least not yet.

This case is not closed, not by a long shot.

Documents:

Tutuklama kararı
An outstanding arrest warrant against SBK presented by the Turkish Embassy to the Congolese authorities on Jan. 21 in French
Kongo
A letter presented to the Congolese Foreign Ministry, acknowledging SBK has an arrest warrant back home and needs to be extradited back Turkey.  
The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Ahval.