Amid allegations that Turkey helped Saudi businessman Yasin al-Qadi, who is listed by the US Treasury as a “specially designated global terrorist,” to evade United Nations sanctions Turkey may have to deal with an image of a country that supports terrorism and ignores international law.
Al-Qadi has entered Turkey multiple times escorted by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's protective detail without a passport or visa, although his entry into the country was banned by a Cabinet decision, the Taraf daily reported in late December.
According to Taraf, Saudi businessman al-Qadi illegally entered Turkey four times between February 2012 and October 2012.
“The interesting thing about the al-Qadi issue is that when he was first designated, his front companies were all based in Turkey … and he had quite a bit of operations on Turkish soil,” said Dr. Jonathan Schanzer, a former terrorism finance analyst at the US Department of the Treasury, who is now vice president of research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, according to a report by Business Insider.
"We don't know exactly what the relationship is with al-Qadi, but we know that his problems started in Turkey," Schanzer said. "It's very hard to look at this right now without remembering that and asking the question: Has he remained active in Turkey through this time?"
According to the report, members of the US Congress or the State Department or the Treasury could even be forced to consider labeling Turkey a state sponsor of terrorism.
“No one wants to do that, but the letter of the law is getting harder and harder to ignore that they might qualify,” Schanzer said, adding that “if left unchecked, this could become a serious problem.”
Close ties between al-Qadi and the Erdoğan government became the center of attention after a police operation launched on Dec. 17, in which the sons of two Cabinet ministers, state-run Halkbank General Manager Süleyman Aslan and Iranian businessman Reza Zarrab were arrested along with 20 other suspects.
Prosecutor Muammer Akkaş was removed from the ongoing corruption operation on Dec. 26 after he attempted to launch a second phase of the investigation, allegedly involving prominent business and political figures. After Akkaş was removed, daily Taraf reported a story, giving details of the investigation of Akkaş. The investigation file reportedly gives all the details of al-Qadi's secret visits to Turkey under the prime minister's protection.
According to the investigation, al-Qadi attended some meetings with boards of directors from certain companies including Bosphorus 360, and he allegedly met with Mustafa Latif Topbaş, a partner of Turkish discount retailer BİM.
When al-Qadi visited Turkey, the prime minister's security detail, police officer İbrahim Yıldız, allegedly welcomed him at the airport. Al-Qadi's son, Muaz Kadıoğlu, took care of his father's business affairs, according to Taraf.
According to the investigation, Bosphorus 360 was about to buy land belonging to a police school in İstanbul's Etiler neighborhood for $460 million, which is below the land's market value, without opening the plot to bidding. The total loss to the public would reportedly have been $540 million.
Another allegation is that al-Qadi entered and left Turkey by means of Topbaş's private jet. According to Taraf, when al-Qadi arrived, the airport's security cameras were covered and he was allowed to enter illegally through the VIP section with no official procedure, passport or visa.
After al-Qadi was banned from entering Turkey, he reportedly returned to Turkey on June 14, 2012, and attended a meeting of BİM's board of directors.
“Besides the legal repercussions, the close ties of Turkey's leader [Erdoğan] with al-Qadi call into question the sincerity of the government's future contributions in the fight against global terrorism,” Cenk Sidar, founder of Sidar Global Advisors (SGA), a Washington, D.C.-based macro insight and strategic advisory firm, told Today's Zaman.
“As a country that has suffered due to jihadist violence, Turkey has made it a priority to take security, political and cultural measures to meet this challenge. Yet the endorsement of al-Qadi by Prime Minister Erdoğan will surely raise eyebrows around the world and could undo decades of good work,” Sidar added.
Amid the allegations of Erdoğan having close relations with al-Qadi, Erdoğan has said: “Yasin al-Qadi is a Saudi businessman who loves Turkey and wants to invest in this country. He has no connection with al-Qaeda. He has been acquitted of all accusations made against him. Is it a crime to meet with this person who wants to make a huge amount of investment in Turkey?”
Erdoğan has been also quoted as saying: “I know al-Qadi. I believe in him as I believe in myself. For al-Qadi to associate with a terrorist organization, or support one, is impossible.”
According to Cenap Çakmak, an expert on international law, the general expectation from a state is to abide by the rule of law.
When asked about what the consequences of close relations with al-Qadi would be for Turkey, ignoring the UN sanctions against his assets and al-Qaeda connection, Çakmak told Sunday's Zaman: “Generally speaking, it is a serious situation if a state does not comply with international law. The consequences may not be direct, but it would have serious political consequences in terms of a country's position in the international arena and it would affect bilateral relations.”
The United Nations enforced sanctions against al-Qadi in 1999 and 2000 to freeze his assets around the world after a UN Security Council resolution named him as a suspected associate of Osama bin Laden's terrorist network, al-Qaeda.
The US Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) ordered al-Qadi's US assets to be frozen in October of 2001. The EU also agreed sanctions on al-Qadi. His listing as a terrorist was overturned by several European courts, and his name was removed from blacklists by Switzerland, the European Union and the United Kingdom.
However, his name remains on the “Specially Designated Global Terrorist” list under US law. The UNSC committee monitoring sanctions against al-Qaeda accepted al-Qadi's petition to be removed from its blacklist in October.