Court bans access to report on loans from state lender to crime boss’s front companies

An İstanbul court has summarily banned access to a report describing how a Turkish state lender allegedly gave 550 million lira ($17 million) in loans to companies linked to a notorious crime boss with alleged ties to a former minister, Turkish Minute reported on Thursday, citing the BirGün daily.

The İstanbul Anadolu 9th Penal Court of Peace banned access to the report upon state lender Halkbank’s application and justified the decision with the violation of “personal rights.”

The report by BirGün’s Timur Soykan, titled “Halkbank’s 550 Million TL Loan to the Mafia,” alleged that Halkbank provided large loans to several companies linked to the network of crime boss Ayhan Bora Kaplan, who allegedly had ties to former interior minister and current AKP lawmaker Süleyman Soylu.

The Kaplan investigation has revealed deep fractures within Turkey’s law enforcement and political establishments, highlighting ongoing power struggles between the AKP and its far-right ally, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP). Kaplan, arrested in September while attempting to flee Turkey, is accused of running a criminal organization involved in “intentional injury,” “armed robbery,” “deprivation of liberty” and “torture.”

There were allegations linking Kaplan’s network to Soylu, suggesting that Kaplan received protection from law enforcement in exchange for financial favors. Soylu, who received explicit support from MHP leader Devlet Bahçeli, has denied the allegations.

The report by Soykan is based on the findings of Turkey’s financial crimes authority (MASAK), which suggests that Kaplan’s companies, involved in the laundering of illegal funds, received substantial sums in loans from state lender Halkbank.

Critics argue that the censorship is an attempt to protect powerful figures and institutions from scrutiny.

The Ankara 10th Penal Court of Peace previously imposed an access ban on 26 news reports regarding bribery allegations made by Kaplan against Supreme Court of Appeals member Yüksel Kocaman, following a petition from Kocaman, sparking a debate about the relationship between the judiciary and organized crime in Turkey.

Soykan reacted aggressively on social media, pointing to the involvement of prominent officials, including the chairman of broadcasting watchdog the Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTÜK) in running Halkbank.

According to investigative reports by Turkish journalists, Kaplan’s rise began during a coup attempt in 2016 when he supported the Turkish government against alleged putschists at the behest of Soylu, who was then-minister of social security and later became interior minister. Soylu allegedly granted Kaplan significant leeway to dominate Ankara’s drug market and shielded him from law enforcement.

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan replaced Soylu with current Interior Minister Ali Yerlikaya in the new cabinet he announced in June 2023 following his victory in the presidential election.

After Soylu’s ouster, Kaplan was arrested in September and admitted to bribing high-ranking officials, including former Ankara Prosecutor General Yüksel Kocaman and Alp Arslan, the deputy director of the Ankara Police Department. Recent testimony and evidence from Kaplan associate E.G. has further exposed Kaplan’s deep involvement in drug trafficking, bribery of high-ranking officials and protection by corrupt police officers, highlighting a systemic problem of corruption that threatens Turkey’s legal and political systems.

Turkish media recently reported that Serdar Sertçelik, a secret witness in Kaplan’s trial, has been detained in Hungary under an INTERPOL Red Notice and will be held until at least July 6.

Sertçelik is accused of being part of Kaplan’s network and previously fled abroad despite being under electronic surveillance. He claimed he was pressured to implicate high-profile political figures in criminal activities, including close associates of President Erdoğan. An investigation into these allegations has led to multiple arrests within Turkey’s law enforcement, including high-ranking police officials.

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