The Islamist government of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has shielded Turkish explosives and arms manufacturers from a United Nations probe, declining at times to respond to inquiries from the UN Panel of Experts that was investigating violations of UN sanctions on Libya.
According to a UN Security Council document circulated on January 3, 2019 that referred to findings in the UN experts’ report, the Turkish government responded to inquiries on only four occasions while either declining to respond or providing only partial information for the rest of the inquiries during the review period from April 7, 2017 to July 15, 2018. When Ankara responded to questions posed by the UN experts, who wanted to learn about violations of Libya sanctions, the Erdoğan government often resorted to a policy of denial or supplied irrelevant responses. “The diversion of arms feeds into the increasing insecurity and constitutes a continued threat to peace and security in Libya and neighbouring countries,” the panel of experts said in a report issued on September 5, 2018. The report was provided to the Security Council committee established pursuant to resolution 1970 (2011) concerning Libya.
One of the incidents the UN inspectors looked into was the seizure of explosives, detonators and detonation cords on board the Tanzanian-flagged Andromeda in January 2018. It was alleged to be on its way to the Libyan port of Misrata and was seized by Greek authorities after it was spotted sailing with the vessel’s Automatic Identification System turned off. Turkish-based Orica-Nitro, the producer and distributor of the commercial explosives on the ship, contracted Armada Shipping, an Istanbul-based freight agent which in turn used a vessel owned by Andromeda Shipmanagement SA, a company registered in the Marshall Islands, to transport the explosives.
It is worth noting that the Andromeda was banned from European ports for reasons of safety in August 2017 and that the company which owned the ship was experiencing financial problems and planned to sell it for scrap. Perhaps it was the perfect vessel to make one last run before retirement and earn some revenue for the owners. In the event things went south, there was not much to lose considering the huge amount of work the ship required to meet safety standards.
Freight agent Reba Denizcilik Hizmetleri A.Ş. loaded 29 containers of explosives onto the ship on November 19, 2018, in the Turkish port of Mersin. The panel is still assessing whether any of the individuals or companies involved in the shipment of the explosives acted in non-compliance with the arms embargo.
The second incident covered by the UN experts concerned weapons transfers from Misrata to the Benghazi Revolutionaries Shura Council, an alliance of Islamist militias that included the Al-Qaeda-linked Ansar al-Sharia group.
On May 1, 2017 a European Union military operation in the southern central Mediterranean then known as EUNAVFOR Med inspected the El Mukhtar in international waters off the coast of Libya. During the inspection, weapons, ammunition and associated materiel were discovered and subsequently seized. The explosives were manufactured in Turkey. According to footage, the boxes bore the label of Turkish manufacturer Kapeks Üretim Patlayıcı Maddeler Ticaret Limited Şirketi, which is based in the Turkish capital of Ankara. Kapeks’ CEO is Hakay Kaya, who had worked for Orica-Nitro as operations manager and is now the owner of chemical and engineering firm HTD Kimya ve Mühendislik A.Ş.
The same ship was halted and searched again on June 19, 2017 in international waters off the Libyan coast. The inspectors found weapons and ammunition. When questioned by the UN investigators, the Turkish government declared that the company had no record of any exports to Libya between March 1 2011 and October 4, 2017.
Similar intercepts of arms originating in Turkey were covered in previous UN reports as well. For example, a Bolivian-registered ship called the Haddad 1 was seized in September 2015 by the Greek coast guard while transporting a concealed arms shipment from Turkey to Libya. Two containers of 5,000 weapons produced by Torun Arms and 500,000 rounds of ammunition produced by Yavaşçalar, two Turkish arms manufacturers, were found. Yavaşçalar was taken over by arms dealer Latif Aral Aliş, who is very close to Erdoğan. According to the UN panel of experts who investigated the incident. Turkish authorities tried to mislead on the facts of the shipment. Initially, the Turkish government claimed the arms were destined for Lebanon and the ammunition for the Sudanese police. However, an inspection revealed no evidence to support this claim but rather revealed contradictory evidence in the form of a nautical chart from the bridge and the cargo manifest, which indicated the shipment was bound for Misrata. The testimony of crew members also corroborated this account.
The Turkish government changed its story when challenged, and this time claimed “hunting rifles/cartridges, pistol blanks and rubber bullets” are not subject to sanctions nor did they require a license. The UNSC sanctions committee did not agree with that assessment, stressing that they, too, were subject to restrictions. The Haddad 1 already had a record of smuggling arms to Libya according to UN inspectors who had collected intelligence on an illicit shipment of arms and ammunition to Libya during their visit to Tobruk in July 2015, Libyan authorities reported the seizure of four containers of arms and ammunition destined for Misrata that had been found aboard the vessel. According to maritime data, the Haddad 1 sailed to Tobruk in June 2015.
In November 2016 I discovered a document in a cache of leaked emails from Erdoğan’s son-in-law and Energy Minister Berat Albayrak, who was approached by the owner of a bankrupt sea shipping and container company asking for compensation from the Turkish government for damage his ship sustained while transporting arms between Libyan ports on the order of authorities in Ankara. The letter was sent to Albayrak by his aide, Ertuğrul Altın, on July 8, 2014 after the latter received it from Mümin Şahin, the owner of the freight company and his brother-in-law. In the letter Şahin revealed all the details of a Turkish-government-approved arms shipment to rebels in Libya while trying to secure compensation for damages the freighter sustained during the voyage.
The freighter, the Irmak, was first contracted by controversial charity group the Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH), which is backed by the Erdoğan government. The IHH, accused of arms trafficking to Syria in documents provided by Russia at the UN Security Council, loaded humanitarian supplies on this Libyan-bound ship at Istanbul’s Zeyntinburnu port. The cargo was offloaded at the port of Misrata on April 22, 2011. On its return trip, the ship was contracted by a shell Turkish-Libyan partnership to deliver a cargo from Benghazi to Misrata. The manifest indicated that the 16 containers included medical supplies.
During the loading process, the ship’s captain, Abdullah Şahin, became suspicious and wanted to check the contents to make sure they were not listed as prohibited goods under international rules and regulations. When he realized that the cargo was arms rather than medical supplies as indicated in the contract, he refused to load it onto the ship. The next day, the Turkish consul general in Benghazi, Ali Davutoğlu, and a Libyan official named Muhamed Alreaht paid a visit to the ship’s captain to pressure him. Davutoğlu said the shipment was approved by Erdoğan’s prime ministry and that the shipment was a matter of national security for Turkey. He noted that Çağatay Erciyesoğlu of the Foreign Ministry was aware of the case and was monitoring the shipment’s progress. The captain balked at the pressure.
The captain was later invited to the Turkish Consulate General in Benghazi to be further pressured, but the talks broke down, this time over the shipment fee. In the end the Libyan official seized the transport documentation, forcing the captain to agree to a deal by allowing 26 (not 16 as originally declared) containers full of arms onto the ship. The ship entered the port of Misrata on May 1, 2011, through a route that had been cleared of mines by NATO warships. While the cargo was being offloaded, forces loyal to Qaddafi opened fire on the ship, prompting the crew to rush to set sail as soon as the unloading was completed. In the meantime, however, the freighter sustained damage when the shaft to its main propeller was cut and had to be towed to Malta for repairs at the Cassar shipyard. The company could not pay the repair costs; the captain and crew were stranded in Malta; and the freight firm went bankrupt with 1.7 million euros of debt. The owner has continued to write to various government agencies in Turkey for relief but to no avail.
Turkey was covered in the 2018 UN report not only for arms violations but also for oil smuggling operations. On October 6, 2017 the Libyan coast guard opened fire on the Goeast, allegedly involved in fuel smuggling. After the incident Turkish authorities granted the tanker anchorage and port access. The panel contacted the Turkish authorities but received no information on its cargo.
The Libyan coast guard impounded the Stark on April 28, 2017 some 1.5 nautical miles off Abu Kammash, carrying 500,000 liters of diesel oil. There were six Turkish citizens on board. The ship is owned by Turkish firm Anadolu Uluslararası Ticaret ve Taşımacılık A.Ş., which is based in Istanbul. Turkish national Zihni Metin Öztezcan is listed as chairman of the board according to trade registry data.
Another Turkish company, Ilu Trade and Shipping INC, was implicated in oil smuggling when the tanker Rex/Amargi was intercepted on August 29, 2017 by the Libyan coast guard and taken to Tripoli. The vessel was loaded with 1,000 tons of diesel oil.