New ‘Panama Papers’ reveals pro-gov’t Turkish businessman’s offshore deal

Newly released documents from the Panamanian-based Mossack Fonseca & Co, the firm that was at the heart of the Panama Papers scandal in 2016, show that Turkey’s pro-government construction conglomerate owner Mehmet Cengiz made a $15 million secret deal with a company located in the British Virgin Islands in order to purchase shares in Turkey’s first nuclear plant, according to a report by the Cumhuriyet daily on Thursday.

The Cumhuriyet daily is the only Turkish media outlet that gained access to the Panama Papers in 2016. The names of 13 current or former heads of state appeared in previous leaks as well as six businessmen including Mehmet Cengiz.

Cengiz, the owner of Cengiz Holding, has been awarded many public contracts during the 16 years of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government led by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, including the construction of İstanbul’s third airport.

According to the newly leaked documents from the since-shuttered law firm, Cengiz wanted to buy a 49 percent stake in the Akkuyu nuclear project and signed a deal with a consultancy firm in the British Virgin Islands linked to Mossack Fonseca, agreeing to make a payment of $15 million.

The CEO of the consultancy firm appears to be Fuad Akhundov, who had been CEO of the Akkuyu Nuclear Power Plant (NPP) Stock Company until April 2016 and remained as one of its board members until February 2018.

Russian state nuclear corporation Rosatom in June 2017 announced its agreement to sell a 49 percent stake in the NPP Akkuyu project to the Ta consortium, comprising Cengiz Holding, Kolin Insaat Turizm Sanayi ve Ticaret and JSC “Kalyon Insaat,’ all government-affiliated Turkish construction companies. However, the consortium pulled out of the deal in February 2018 due to disagreements on the commercial terms.

In April 2018, Russia’s Energy Minister Alexander Novak told Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency that talks with potential Turkish investors for Akkuyu NPP were ongoing. “Our priority is Turkish companies, especially the companies in which the [Turkish] government has some stakes. I hope that an agreement will be made soon for investors to participate in the project,” he said.

Meanwhile, an executive of Russian energy holding company Inter RAO and reportedly a former board member of the company that is building Turkey’s first nuclear power plant has been arrested and charged with spying for an unnamed foreign country, according to reports in Russian media.

Karina Tsurkan oversaw Inter RAO’s electricity trades in parts of Eastern Europe and had links to a businessman tied to Romanian intelligence, the Kommersant newspaper said.

Until March 2017 Tsurkan was on the board of the company that is building Turkey’s first nuclear power plant, the pro-government Turkish Yeni Akit daily reported on Thursday. The plant, located in Akkuyu on Turkey’s Mediterranean coast, is being constructed in a joint Russian-Turkish project, with Russian energy company Rosatom the majority stakeholder.

Tsurkan could be sentenced to 20 years if convicted of espionage on behalf of a foreign country. According to Russian sources she graduated from university in Moldova and worked for Inter RAO covering Moldova, Ukraine and Romania from 2010 to 2011. (SCF with Ahval)

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