Mob boss’ accusations beg questions about Turkey’s murky relationship with Venezuela - fmr diplomat

Exiled mafia boss Sedat Peker’s allegations concerning the involvement of political elites in Turkey in narcotic trafficking has focused attention on the country’s murky relationship with Venezuela. 

Imdat Oner, a policy analyst at Jack D. Gordon Institute at Florida International University in Miami, said that from the start of Turkey’s opening to Venezuela in 2018, there were questions about the exact nature of the relationship that remain difficult to answer.

“The lack of transparency in Turkey-Venezuela relations only increases the questions that need to be asked,” Oner told Ahval News in a recent podcast. 

Öner, who served as a Turkish diplomat in Latin America from 2014 to 2016, described Turkey’s opening to Venezuela as being part of a broader opening to a continent where it had few interests historically. However, relations with Venezuela took their own direction amidst an uprising in 2018 supported by the United States to oust President Nicolas Maduro from power. 

During that period, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan lent his verbal support to Maduro, a move that broke with his Western allies and placed him in the company of Maduro allies like Russia and China. In an analysis for the Wilson Center in 2018, Öner assessed that Erdoğan’s support for Maduro had to do with a shared antipathy towards the West as well as his own experience of resisting a coup attempt in July 2016. 

Where Sedat Peker’s allegations take on some credibility, Öner suggests, is in the rapid growth in trade between Turkey and Venezuela, a state mired in corruption and state involvement in narcotrafficking. For Turkey to have achieved this after having a marginal presence in Venezuela relative to other powers, Oner says it would mean coming into contact with the illicit world dealings of Venezuelan officials.

It is for this reason that Peker’s allegations of dirty deals being conducted between Turkish and Venezuelan characters may have some level of credibility. 

“Sedat Peker’s allegations are quite reasonable in certain respects,” Öner said, pointing to the involvement of some Turkey-based firms in violating U.S sanctions on Venezuela. 

Öner adds that Peker’s allegations placed a different light on the shadowy trade with Venezuela when he accused the son of Turkey’s former prime minister Binali Yildirim of involvement with the country’s drug trade.

In a video released on May 23, Peker accused Erkam Yildirim of helping to create a new cocaine smuggling route from Venezuela to Turkey. Yildirim rejected this claim and his son filed criminal charges against Peker over it. However, Öner says if the allegations are true, it would immediately implicate Turkey’s elites in Venezuelan narcotrafficking. 

“A business of narcotrafficking and allegations of a son of a former Turkish prime minister being involved totally changes the picture,” he said. 

While the Yildirims reject Peker’s claims, Öner says there is reason to doubt their stories. Yildirim said that his son visited Venezuela last December only to deliver COVID-19 supplies and a second Turkish official claimed Erkam visited for “social projects”. 

However, Öner said it was worth wondering why Venezuela’s government, which is keen to highlight international visits and aid deliveries to demonstrate it is not a pariah in the world, did not publicize any visit. 

Further complicating the Yildirims’ story was a report in Cumhuriyet on Monday which, after examining customs records from that period, found no deliveries of COVID-19 equipment were made between October and December 2020, when Erkam Yildirim allegedly travelled to the country. 

“Somehow, Binali Yildirim’s son’s visit and COVID help never showed up in any social media posts. It is never in the news of Venezuela’s local newspapers,” Öner said. 

“Something is weird here. These are huge allegations, and I think the prime minister is telling a lie here to the Turkish public.” 

Öner said that despite the gravity of Peker’s accusations, there has been no official investigation into them and he does not expect the Turkish government to conduct one. However, he does believe that in the absence of an official investigation, what Peker is claiming should demand more questions to be asked about the full extent of Turkey’s interactions with Venezuela. 

“People need to ask questions about what actually is happening between Maduro and Erdoğan, between the Turkish and Venezuelan governments,” he said. 

“Turkey has never had a relationship with Venezuela. Why, when it now has its best relationship with Venezuela, do these allegations come into the picture? That is why Sedat Peker’s allegations have some credibility.”