Fuat Oktay (left) and Ersin Tatar in Nicosia in April 2023

Tatar denies mafia bribery link

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Turkish Cypriot leader Ersin Tatar has denied involvement in a $50 mln bribery scandal implicating Turkey’s former vice-president Fuat Oktay, following allegations published by investigative journalist Cevheri Guven.

Tatar on Wednesday ordered a police investigation into the reports, refuting claims that he acted as a mediator in the alleged bribery of the Turkish official by businessman Halil Falyali, with alleged ties to the mafia, who was murdered in February 2022 in Kyrenia.

The accusations stem from an audio recording shared by Guven, where Cemil Onal, currently serving time in a Dutch jail and Falyali’s former associate, alleges that Falyali’s family paid $50 mln to Oktay for ‘immunity’ to their assets in Turkey.

In the recording, as reported in Turkish media, Onal describes how Falyali’s widow Özge Falyali contacted Ersin Tatar via Alihan Pehlivan, the editor-in-chief of Gundem Kibris daily, shortly after her husband’s murder. According to Onal, this paved the way for the bribery arrangement.

In comments to Turkish Cypriot daily YeniDuzen on Wednesday, Tatar denied any involvement in the alleged bribery scheme and distanced himself from the matter.

“I neither heard nor saw anything. It has nothing to do with me. Nor do I believe Oktay would have anything to do with such a case,” stated Tatar.

The bribery claims had also surfaced following Falyali’s murder in 2022.

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, in February 2022.

The assailants unleashed a hail of gunfire on Falyali’s vehicle, resulting in critical injuries from 16 bullets. Despite efforts at the hospital, Falyali succumbed to his injuries, while his driver, Murat Demirtaş, died at the scene.

Falyali had been linked to questionable connections with figures within the Turkish government.

Cocaine trafficking

One year prior to his murder, Falyali had come to public attention in Turkey in May 2021 when Sedat Peker, an alleged Turkish mob boss, exposed the alleged participation of Turkish government officials in an international cocaine trafficking ring.

Peker claimed that the drugs were being shipped to Turkey from Venezuela and then to the Middle East on luxury yachts, while the profits were laundered through casinos in the north by Falyali.

According to Peker, Erkam Yildirim, the son of ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) politician Binali Yildirim, former minister Mehmet Agar and Falyali were running the cocaine operation, while then-interior minister Süleyman Soylu afforded them immunity.

Timur Soykan, an investigative reporter for left-wing BirGun daily, commenting on Falyali’s gangland killing on his Twitter account at the time 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 occupied 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,

Soykan added 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.