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Thursday, August 11, 2022

Air India’s new Turkish CEO Ilker Ayci, a close aide of Erdogan, was reportedly connected with Al-Qaeda financiers

Turkish national Ilker Ayci, who has been appointed as the new CEO and Managing Director (MD), is a controversial figure.

Home Ministry to conduct background check of Ayci

The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) will verify the background of Air India’s newly appointed CEO Ilker Ayci, officials said. This is a routine procedure when a foreign national is appointed CEO of any Bharatiya company, officials added. The officials said that the process will be initiated once the MHA gets official communication on Ayci from the Tata group or the Ministry of Civil Aviation, which is a nodal Ministry.

The Union Home Ministry is likely to take help from the Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW) in background verification of Ayci, who was CEO of Turkish Airlines from 2015 to 2021. Tata Group bought the debt-ridden state-owned Air India from the Central government by placing a bid of Rs 18,000 crore at an auction and on January 27, it took over the full control of Air India.

Ayci’s links to Erdogan and Al-Qaeda financier Al-Qadi

Ayci has been associated with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan since 1994 when he functioned as Erdogan’s advisor from 1994-98 during the latter’s tenure as the Istanbul Mayor. He was involved in the establishment of Erdogan’s Justice and Development party’s (AKP) office in Istanbul and is the former vice-president of the party’s Istanbul branch. He also attended the same school as Erdogan’s son Bilal and is his close friend. Ayci is alleged to have facilitated investments and private businesses of one-time Al-Qaeda financier Al-Qadi during his tenure as the president of the Investment Support and Promotion Agency of Turkey (ISPAT).

It has come to light through a Turkish court-authorized wiretap that Ayci and Qadi met secretly on August 18, 2013. In the meeting, he is said to have encouraged Qadi to bid in thermal power plants’ privatization while assuring him that ISPAT had been fully authorized by Erdogan to deal with foreign investors and even instructed his energy minister to refrain from interfering.

A report by Nordic Monitor in the matter says:

According to a wiretap authorized by a Turkish court as part of a corruption investigation in Turkey, Aycı, accompanied by then-ISPAT department head Abdulkerim Çay, met with al-Qadi in the private office of Cengiz Aktürk, who was also a suspect in the same investigation and a close associate of al-Qadi.

Secret documents obtained by Nordic Monitor reveal how al-Qadi was encouraged at the time by the Turkish government to bid in tenders for the privatization of thermal power plants. “We should be ready by the end of the year, then you can launch,” al-Qadi told Aycı, referring to the tender for the power plants. In response, Aycı said, “Alright, we will do our best [to assist]”. Aycı also asked al-Qadi to conclude preparations for the project before his presentation to then-Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. “Let’s complete our work as soon as possible and visit [Erdoğan] immediately,” Aycı said…

…Al-Qadi is an Egyptian-born Saudi national who was at one time flagged by the US Treasury and the UN al-Qaeda sanction committee. Al-Qadi was later removed from the UN list, followed by the US Treasury delisting his name…

…Al-Qadi and Erdoğan’s son Bilal were leading suspects in an investigation into corruption pursued by prosecutors in Istanbul and were the subjects of detention warrants issued on December 25, 2013 by the prosecutors. However, Erdoğan stepped in, illegally preventing the execution of the warrants by ordering the police to ignore the prosecutor’s orders. After the removal of the prosecutors and police chiefs who were involved in the investigation, Erdoğan managed to whitewash the crimes of his associates.

Ayci’s closeness with Erdogan is also a matter of concern in view of the fact that the latter is not only close to Pakistan but also that the Muslim Brotherhood, a hub of radical Islamists receives patronage from Turkey besides Pakistan and Qatar.

TURGEV is a non-profit organization founded by Erdogan in 1996 during his tenure as the Istanbul Mayor. TURGEV has partnered with the Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH) which is facing allegations of financing terror groups including ISIS, Al-Qaeda, Hamas, and the Chechen separatists. Importantly, Kathmandu-based Islami Sangh Nepal (ISN), which is under the radar of Bharatiya intelligence agencies, also shares close ties with IHH. ISN has been accused of providing sanctuary to fugitive Indian terrorists.

It was during Ayci’s tenure as the CEO that Turkish Airlines (THY) faced allegations of violating security, immigration, and host country labor laws overseas reported Nordic Monitor. The same report also highlighted Ayci’s involvement in a December 2013 corruption scandal in which several government officials and associates were implicated. “He was involved in a development project in a wealthy part of İstanbul with Saudi businessman Yasin Al-Qadi…The case was hushed up by Erdoğan”, notes the report.

It is worth pointing out the role of THY in transferring arms to Nigeria cited in the above report:

In 2014 a leaked recording of a conversation that took place between an adviser of Erdoğan and an official from THY revealed that Turkey’s national airline and the Turkish government were alleged to have been involved in a transfer of arms to Nigeria. According to the voice recording uploaded onto YouTube, Mehmet Karataş, executive assistant to the chief executive officer of THY, is heard telling Erdoğan adviser Mustafa Varank, now the industry minister, that he feels guilty about the transfer of weapons to Nigeria. Karataş is heard saying in the recording, “I don’t know whether these [weapons] will kill Muslims or Christians.”

His loyalty towards Erdogan is evident from the manner in which Ayci apologized when the latter was angered with The Economist’s over-critical coverage of the Turkish government’s handling of the 2013 anti-government protests and pulled up the Turkish investment agency ISPAT with respect to ads given to the magazine.

“An apologetic Aycı responded by saying that he would not do anything concerning media advertising unless it was cleared by Erdoğan himself. He also said the campaign was planned before he was appointed to the agency and blamed his predecessor for giving ads to The Economist”, notes Nordic Monitor. Another report by the site reads “Aycı continuously addresses Erdoğan with Turkish phrases that are used to show high esteem such as “efendim,” meaning my lord or my venerable sir, and “emredersiniz,” a phrase used by soldiers to declare that the order of a superior is understood and will be carried out right away”.

Ayci’s closeness and loyalty to Erdogan is certainly a matter of concern and a thorough probe into his background and alleged links by the Bharatiya government before granting clearance are only to be expected. It must be noted that he would not be able to function as the CEO till such time as the central government gives its clearance.

(With IANS inputs)

(Featured Image Source: New Indian)

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