Prosecutors: Sugar baron and family ‘live like royalty’

February 23, 2012, Thursday/ 15:42:00/ TODAY'S ZAMAN

Vedat Ali Özışık, the chairman of a sugar refinery's executive board for the past eight years, as well as his family, have been described as “living like royalty” in an indictment prepared by the Ankara Specially Authorized Prosecutor's Office.

Prosecutors launched an investigation into three sugar refineries in 2010, based on allegations of corruption at the facilities. According to the Milliyet daily, the indictment -- in which Özışık is accused of being the leader of a criminal organization -- has only recently been revealed to the media.

Some members of the Özışık family, former Kayseri Police Chief Orhan Özdemir, former Kayseri Deputy Governor Ali Yener Erçin and Kayseri Chamber of Commerce President Hasan Ali Kilci are among 154 suspects in the case.

According to the indictment, the Özışık family maintained an extremely luxurious lifestyle, despite appearing to earn a low income, and participated in immoral activities such as sacking employees who refused to have sex with them. The indictment claims that prospective female employees would only be hired if family members thought they were attractive. Members of the family would then ask the women to have sex with them in a room specifically designed for this purpose in one of the factories. If the applicant refused, she would be sacked.

Kayseri Sugar Factory (Kayseri Şeker Fabrikası) is one of Turkey's biggest sugar refineries and is collectively owned by a partnership of 80,000 farmers.

Özışık was taken in for questioning at the Kayseri Police Department's Anti-Smuggling and Organized Crime Unit in late 2010. The corruption allegations raised against him are the result of several reports by auditors from the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs and the Ministry of Industry and Trade.

The allegations against Özışık include extensive claims of nepotism. The reports indicate that he hired 81 relatives and close friends for various positions at the factory. They also revealed that despite appearing to earn an income of only TL 2,000 per month, he lives a highly opulent lifestyle and owns a Mercedes S500 and a Ferrari, while his son, Burhan Özışık, drives a BMW X6. The reports also state that Özışık rented a villa on the Bosporus owned by renowned architect Ahmet Vefik Alp and was using this residential building as an office on behalf of the company.

Özışık and other board members allegedly frequently went abroad using company funds and even billed their personal shopping to the organization. Özışık is reported to have billed the company 70,000 euros for a trip to Dubai. According to the 300-page report from the Ministry of Industry and Trade, the annual cost of these trips to the company, which has an annual accommodation and hotel budget of around TL 10 million, amounted to millions of euros.

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