Walter Russell Mead
January 7, 2014
Turkey’s political crisis took a dark turn this week. Photos of Prime Minister Erdoğan’s son meeting a suspected al-Qaeda financier in an Istanbul hotel were leaked to the press. The photos allegedly show Bilal Erdoğan meeting Saudi Arabian businessman Yasin al-Qadi, whom the US blacklisted in April 2013 as an al-Qaeda funder. According to media reports, Qadi, who visits Turkey frequently and was escorted by the Prime Minister’s security men, met Bilal to discuss a deal for a juicy piece of real estate worth $1 billion in Istanbul’s Etiler neighborhood. The land was to be sold to investors, without public bidding, for half that price. If these reports hold any water, Erdoğan could be in serious trouble.
Qadi’s relationship with Turkey and the Erdoğan family goes back a few years. In 2004 the Wall Street Journal uncovered transactions worth more than $1 million between Qadi and Maram, a Turkish front company that funded terrorists in Yemen. Associates of Qadi’s, including managers at Maram, are known funders and founders of al-Qaeda. Qadi has frequently and vehemently denied the accusations and spent a lot of money trying to clear his name. But at the very least, his dealings in Turkey are suspicious. According to opposition lawmakers, his presence in the country is illegal.
To Prime Minister Erdoğan and his family, however, a meeting with Qadi is nothing out of the ordinary. Erdoğan told Turkish media that Qadi is a family friend, as Ilhan Tanir, a Turkish journalist for Vatan, wrote on Twitter. Prosecutors in Istanbul were following Qadi during the investigation into the Etiler property, which has not been sold and still belongs to the public. The National reports:
Mr Al Qadi was on a list of names due to be arrested in a second wave of arrests as part of investigations into several corruption cases.
The Prime Minister’s son was also under investigation:
Bilal was included in a group of people that were to be questioned as “suspects”, said reports, quoting sources in the judiciary.
Erdoğan still maintains that the investigations—which target shady business dealings between officials in his administration, their family members, and construction tycoons, including men like Qadi—amount to an international conspiracy against him. He has blamed the “deep state” in Turkey, followers of a prominent Islamist living in exile in the United States, the US ambassador, an international “interest rate lobby,” and other diabolical actors. He has also retaliated by firing scores of police officers involved in the investigations. Today, he reassigned about 350 officers, including “at least 80 directors and other senior officers in the intelligence, organized crime, fiscal crime and cybercrime units of Ankara’s police force,” to menial positions.
The ongoing corruption investigation has held the country riveted, yielding several juicy reports, such as the one with the minister with millions of dollars stashed in shoeboxes in his house. The revelations, and government attempts to stop them, are threatening to bring down the administration of Turkey’s most popular politician since Atatürk. They’re also having a negative effect on Turkey’s economy, by delaying, perhaps for months, efforts to stem inflation. Under Turkey’s parliamentary rules, Erdoğan is obliged to respond to the official investigation into Bilal’s meeting with Qadi within a month. Whether he does so and what happens to his administration and the economy in the meantime are anyone’s guess, but right now those guesses aren’t pointing anywhere good.