Arrest in Turkish Cypriot mob boss hit

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One person was reportedly apprehended Wednesday and a manhunt is underway in the occupied north to find the killers of Turkish Cypriot casino owner and alleged mob boss, Halil Falyali.

Falyali, 64, a former bodyguard turned casino boss who gained massive wealth through gaming and virtual betting, was gunned down in a drive-by shooting outside his home in Agios Epiktitos, Kyrenia.

He and his driver were killed in what appears to be a gangland hit outside his home, after returning from an outing with his family on Tuesday night. Falyali’s wide and children were in a separate car and reportedly escaped the shooting.

News reports said Falyali was fatally injured when his vehicle was sprayed with bullets from automatic weapons, and despite doctors’ efforts, he succumbed later at a local hospital. Falyali was hit by 18 bullets.

His driver, Murat Demirtas, died at the scene. According to news site Haber Kibris, the hitmen had used Kalashnikov machine guns. Over 40 bullets were fired at Falyali’s car.

Falyali and his dealings in the north had come under the spotlight Turkish mob boss Sedat Peker who is self-exiled in Dubai had named him as a key figure in a cocaine ring also involving former Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım’s son, Erkan Yıldırım, and Mehmet Ağar, a former police chief in Turkey.

Series of tell-all videos

Peker had implicated Falyali in the seventh of a series of videos he released on social media naming high-ranking government officials in Turkey, as well as Turkish Cypriot politicians and businessmen.

This was not the first time that Falyali’s name had been brought up in connection to drug trafficking.

A man arrested in a major drug bust in 2001, Behcet Tore, said that he and Falyali had traded millions in drugs in the 1990s and laundered money through Falyali’s casino in the Turkish occupied north.

Falyali’s alleged involvement in a drug ring is one of several scenarios leading to his murder.

Timur Soykan, an investigative reporter for left-wing BirGun daily, commenting on the gangland killing on his Twitter account said one scenario was his involvement in the alleged drug ring. A second could well be his involvement in the Turkish virtual betting industry, which essentially moved to north Cyprus after being banned in Turkey.

Soykan said that when virtual gambling was banned in Turkey, with the industry estimated to be worth TRY 100 bln (€6.5 bln), the north became a base for illegal betting,

“Halil Falyalı was given local betting licenses which paved the way for his huge fortune. With Turkey, of a population of 84 million, being a huge market, a base of operations was established in Cyprus. Falyalı also obtained licenses in other countries (Belarus, Ukraine, Malta)”.

Fulham FC bid in 2004

Soykan noted that Falyali had amounted such incredible wealth through his betting activities that he even tried to buy English football side Fulham FC for GBP 100 mln back in 2004.

BirGun’s reporter also said that another scenario for the killing involved allegations that Falyalı obtained compromising video footage of local politicians, such as the former leader of the ruling coalition Ersan Saner.

Saner was pushed into resignation last October after a sex tape had made its way to social media and then blaming mafia circles and his rival for the leadership of the National Unity Party (UBP) Faiz Sucuoglu.

Sucuoglu was elected as the head of the newly founded coalition in the north after a snap election in January.

Sedat Peker is said to be the mastermind behind filming many of the tapes that allegedly fell into Falyali’s hands.

When Peker’s allegations over the north’s connections with drug rings emerged, former Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci accused Falyali of blackmailing politicians and money laundering. Akinci had said that the government in Ankara protected the latter from prosecution.

“Halil Falyali has always been at the top levels of the National Unity Party (UBP) administration. It is known by everyone that he supported UBP with all his financial means in elections at all levels,” Akıncı said.

The UBP is currently favoured by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP).

Media reports suggest Falyali’s assassins were believed to have been sent by Turkish mafia circles to settle scores, while police said reports of a specific photo on social media showing two men inside a vehicle as alleged suspects was not accurate, saying the two males were not involved.