A tape recording of a phone conversation has provided yet more proof of the extent of nepotism in the Justice and Development Party led by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
The conversation between President Erdoğan’s brother Mustafa Erdoğan and the president of the Investment Support and Promotion Agency of Turkey (ISPAT), İlker Aycı, shows that top managers of the country’s biggest companies are more than willing to find a mid-level position for a distant relative of the Turkish president.
The secret minutes of the telephone conversation, obtained by Nordic Monitor, were included in a graft probe that came to public attention on December 25, 2013. The corruption cases directly and indirectly implicated then-Prime-Minister Erdoğan, whose response was to reshape the entire judicial system and eventually kill the investigations.
The phone call was recorded under an authorization granted by an İstanbul court on November 24, 2012, and every page of the official file including the minutes of the call is stamped “confidential.”
The caller’s ID is logged in the file as Mustafa Erdoğan, who was returning a missed call from Aycı. Aycı’s telephone number seems in the file to be registered under the name of Güneş Sigorta, a public-private insurance company that he managed as CEO until he was appointed by Erdoğan to chair ISPAT in 2011.
Aycı would remain chair of ISPAT until he was named chairman of the country’s national flag carrier, Turkish Airlines (THY), in 2015. Aycı was among the founders of the AKP’s İstanbul office. He was also a consultant to Erdoğan during the latter’s term as mayor of İstanbul between 1994 and 1998. He is the son-in-law of a former AKP deputy from Bursa, Altan Karapaşaoğlu.
The four-page transcript of the secret wiretap of a conversation between President Erdoğan’s brother Mustafa Erdoğan and President of the Investment Support and Promotion Agency of Turkey (ISPAT) İlker Aycı:Mustafa_Erdogan_ilker_Avci
Aycı tells Erdoğan’s brother that he wants to discuss a previous request in which Mustafa Erdoğan had asked Aycı to help a family relative named Volkan Ardor get a job in one of the companies in which Aycı was involved.
According to the transcript, Aycı informs Mustafa Erdoğan that he had a brief meeting with Volkan while he was in Germany. But a second meeting wasn’t possible since Prime Minister Erdoğan had ordered him to return to Ankara. Still, Volkan kept in contact with him by sending an email in which he wrote: “I want to work at the agency [ISPAT] and have already talked with beyefendi [referring to Erdoğan]. My uncle [again referring to Recep Tayyip Erdoğan] told me to work, and so please give me a job as soon as possible.” Aycı says he will arrange a position for him, but before taking any action, wanted to first consult with President Erdoğan and his brother Mustafa.
Mustafa Erdoğan interrupts Aycı and starts praising Volkan by enumerating the languages he speaks. “He has English and German; this kid was actually born in Germany.” He also talks about Volkan’s elder sister, who works as a cabin chief at AnadoluJet, a sister company of THY. “I will get her out of there,” says Mustafa since her company was closing down its German operations as part of downsizing due to financial problems. “Maybe we can assign her to a position in THY’s Stuttgart’s office,” he adds, to which Aycı says, “Yes, elder brother, I got it.”
Aycı tells Mustafa Erdoğan more about his conversation with Erdoğan’s nephew. He had asked Volkan to send him his CV so that he could gain a better insight into his skills and experience and direct him to the position that best suits him.
‘Let’s not separate siblings’
The prime minister’s brother asks Aycı if ISPAT has an office in Stuttgart so that both Volkan and his sister can stay in the same city, saving them from a lot of expenses.
However, Aycı says that’s not possible since ISPAT doesn’t have an office in Stuttgart, nor anywhere in Germany because there is widespread prejudice against Turks in that country and so ISPAT carries out its operations through prominent German figures such as a former Hamburg mayor and a former head of government of the same state. Even Joschka Fischer, foreign minister and vice chancellor in Gerhard Schroeder’s cabinet from 1998 to 2005, was part of ISPAT’s German stronghold, says Aycı, noting that Volkan may not be a good fit with ISPAT’S format for Germany and that it could cause problems for him and ISPAT in the long run. “Therefore, elder brother, what I say is that I wonder if we should place Volkan at THY or TİKA [Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency],” Aycı says.
After Mustafa Erdoğan asks if there would be any suitable position at TİKA for someone like Volkan, Aycı says: “Elder brother, TİKA has experts overseas. They hang around the embassy. That may be an option for us. Likewise, he could also work for THY. He wouldn’t attract anybody’s attention there.” But at ISPAT, his presence alone would cause problems as he would probably not be able to fit in with such an elite group, says Aycı, adding, “If they happen to learn that he is from the family, it could cause problems.”
“But they are German citizens,” responds Mustafa Erdoğan.
“Yes they are German citizens, but I would prefer that they [the Germans who work for ISPAT] not learn that he is from the family,” Aycı says.
Mustafa Erdoğan sees that Aycı has misunderstood him and says, “I mean, wouldn’t it be a problem for German citizens to work at the embassy?” Aycı confirms that so long as Volkan works for TİKA, his presence at the embassy compound wouldn’t cause any problems at all and tells Mustafa Erdoğan that he can speak with TİKA if he is agreeable to it.
Mustafa Erdoğan, however, insists that recruiting Volkan for THY might be a better idea since he wants to see his sister at that company, too. But the sister must no longer be assigned to flights due to problems with her ears caused by air pressure. She has suffered a 30 percent hearing loss, he says.
‘Your nephew is my nephew’
Aycı repeats Mustafa Erdoğan’s request that both siblings be in the same city. Erdoğan replies, “Yes, because their parents are there, and you know, they are close to each other.” Then Aycı says he will contact TİKA to see if there is a possible opening for Volkan.
“Ok,” says Mustafa Erdoğan.
Aycı quickly replies, “Elder brother, your nephew is my nephew, we are a family. So there is no problem at all.”
Mustafa Erdoğan continues to narrate the details of his connection to Volkan: “My sister went to Germany after getting married in 1967-1968. … Her children’s Turkish is not so perfect; whenever they feel stuck, they use English.” Then the two agreed to consult with Serdar Çam, the chairman of TİKA, to explore any hiring possibilities at the office. Afterwards, Aycı tells Mustafa Erdoğan that Volkan must be patient as these procedures may take some time. “I mean, don’t let him get upset, but rather, be a little patient, you know, until we handle these things and make an attempt to land him a job.”
This is not the first case of abuse of authority on the part of Aycı, though. He is notorious for hiring people due tp political connections instead of merit. For instance, during his tenure at THY, it has been filled with his circle from the Kartal Imam-Hatip, a religious high school, also attended by Erdoğan’s son Bilal. According to the Sözcü daily, about 80 people in various administrative positions at THY are from the Kartal Imam-Hatip, among whom Arda Ermut and Ogün Şanlıer are members of the board. In other words, they have a say in the management of the country’s flag carrier. Ermut was a graduate the same year as Bilal Erdoğan, as were Abdülkerim Çay and Ahmet Olmuştur, both assistant general managers, and Ebubekir Akgül, the head of human resources.
Çay is particularly important as his name also appeared in another tape recording from the December 2013 corruption investigations. Çay, who was general manager of Bosporus 360, established an undocumented partnership with Bilal Erdoğan in the company and reaped financial gains that could hardly have been earned without the influence of such a powerful figure as Erdoğan.
Kinship as a factor in finding positions in state-connected institutions has not been a rarity during AKP rule. Old friendships and close proximity to prominent figures in the party are among the criteria used to assess a person’s suitability for a public job.
That said, however, the AKP has embraced an even broader interpretation of nepotism, in the sense that a person must prove his or her allegiance and loyalty to the party to be appointed or promoted to a post. Still, being related to a prominent party official or having an uncle in politics paves the way to moving up the career ladder much more quickly.
Mutlu Erol Kahya from the Birgün newspaper has argued that the AKP has transformed favoritism in Turkey into a more sophisticated art form, even to the extent that is strongly supported by tailor-made laws that remove obstacles whenever needed. Nurcan Gökdemir from the same newspaper asserted that favoritism has even progressed to a much higher level ever since Erdoğan has consolidated his power.
President Erdoğan’s appointment of his own daughter as a consultant and his son-in-law as energy minister and then finance minister in different cabinets are just two examples. Erdoğan also exploits appointments as a tool to reward his followers and to distribute the benefits of power to keep people in line. He hired his nephew Ali Erdoğan, who had no training in security, as leader of his team of bodyguards. Minister of Youth and Sports Mehmet Kasapoğlu is the son-in-law of Feyzullah Kıyıklık, a confidant of Erdoğan. Kıyıklık himself has also enjoyed such important positions as mayor of a district of İstanbul and a deputy in parliament.
Loyalty and close relations are among the criteria Erdoğan considers while deciding a list of deputy candidates for parliament. To illustrate, Ahmet Hamdi Çamlı had no qualifications other than as his long-time chauffeur, but his lack of experience was not an impediment for his election as a deputy. Similarly, Erdoğan rewarded his lawyers Ali Özkaya and Fatih Şahin with the privileges of a member of parliament. Aydın Ünal, previously Erdoğan’s speechwriter, found himself filling a deputy seat. Similarly, Erdoğan’s comrade-in-arms İmran Kılıç was also catapulted into parliament from Erdoğan’s ruling party list.
Similarly, Erdoğan appointed Şaban Dişli, a former lawmaker from the AKP; Lütfulluh Göktaş, his press consultant; and Mahmut Erol Kılıç, a columnist and theologian, as ambassadors, which demonstrates the lack of attention to suitability and ability even for the state’s most vital positions. His consultant Mustafa Varank was also assigned first as an ambassador and then as industry and technology minister.
Fatma Betül Sayan Kaya has recently been in the limelight as an outstanding example of nepotism. A daughter of Erdoğan’s old friend Ramazan Kaya, Fatma Betül started bringing her family members into various public jobs. Her sister Ayşe Hilal Sayan Koytak was appointed as her deputy undersecretary. She later resigned from this position to be named ambassador to Kuwait. Her brother Ömer Fatih Sayan started his public career at the Information Technologies Board (BTK), was promoted from there to deputy minister of transportation and infrastructure to finally stop — for now — as deputy chairman of Türk Telekom. Her least-favored sister, Nazmiye Sümeyye Sayan, is just a city council member in the Istanbul Municipality.