by Leo Kendrick
Sedat Peker, the mafia boss who caused a major stir this past spring with series of videos accusing top Turkish government officials of corruption, has reemerged following a nearly two-month absence.
Peker, who lives in exile in the United Arab Emirates, was the subject of investigation by Turkey’s Interior Ministry into his criminal dealings, which included a raid of his home in Istanbul in April. Shortly thereafter, Peker launched his month-long video series, which lasted into early June.
Peker’s series of nine full-length episodes released between May and June, each ranging from 45-90 minutes, caused a major stir in Turkey domestically and even made headlines abroad, as they alleged deep-rooted corruption rampant in Turkey’s government and ruling Justice & Development Party (AKP). The last of Peker’s full-length videos, posted June 6th, was followed by a lengthy silence, punctuated only by a series of retweets and a short note released June 20th saying he was still alive.
The series of videos, filmed at Peker’s home in Dubai, garnered tens of millions of views on YouTube and sparked much public debate in Turkey during their original broadcast this past spring. The mafia boss, who admitted he had more information to expose, claimed his motivations for making the allegations were for the good of his own conscience and family.
Despite the public furor they ignited, however, discussion around Peker’s allegations faded quickly following his disappearence from social media airwaves in June. Various explanations for his absence were floated, including alleged pressure from or clandestine deals with the Turkish and United Arab Emirati governments. His brief video update released on June 20th sought to assauge fears that he had been killed or silenced, but rumors swirled including reports that Peker and his entire immediate family had fallen seriously ill with coronavirus.
Aside from a handful of retweets, Peker remained silent until August 7th, two days after Medyascope aired a Turkish-language broadcast by Ruşen Çakır exploring possible reasons for Peker’s disappearance as well as speculations on his possible return. Just days after the broadcast was aired, Sedat Peker posted two Twitter threads totalling 50 tweets, containing fresh allegations implicating various AKP-connected figures as well as Turkish institutions such as OYAK, Ziraat Bank, and Adli Tip Kurumu.
In addition to several tweets aimed at old foe Süleyman Soylu, Turkey’s Interior Minister who was the subject of many of Peker’s allegations throughout the spring, other tweets centered on alleged connections between an Iranian drug ring led by Naci Şerifi Zindaşti and AKP higher-ups Aliye Uzun and Burhan Kuzu, who were pictured in one of Peker’s tweets at a dinner with the Iranian drug lord.
Peker’s allegations portray Turkey’s ruling government as one intimately tied in with a criminal underworld, one in which favors are exchanged and personal enrichment is of chief importance in what has been described as a politician-government-mafia triangle. An example of this from Peker’s most recent Twitter thread centers on the alleged relationship between Uzun, an AKP official from Istanbul’s Beşiktaş district, and Zindaşti, in which Uzun was allegedly trying to secure Turkish citizenship for the Iranian drug boss through government backchannels. Following Peker’s revelations, Uzun admitted to introducing Zindaşti and Kuzu at the dinner pictured in Peker’s tweets.
While many of Peker’s fresh allegations have yet to be explicitly confirmed or denied, past attempts to discredit Peker have been by-and-large unsuccessful; Soylu’s spat with Peker this past spring stands as the best example of how public attempts to deny and discredit Peker’s claims can backfire in the form of excessive media attention, which is often more damaging than the claims themselves.
Many of the accussed may hope the allegations will be gradually forgotten and fall out of the public eye, an approach perhaps legitimized by the events of this summer, which saw discussion surrounding Peker and his various allegations largely fade away during his lengthy absence. As a mafia boss with a history and extensive connections to criminal networks, some analysts believe that however legitimate they may be, the potential for Peker’s claims to ignite concrete political and structural changes in Turkey’s allegedly corrupt bureaucracy is limited, given that even the most hard-line opposition politicians are unlikely to closely associate themselves with the mob boss. Additionally, many of Peker’s latest accusations were levelled at former AKP representative and presidential advisor Burhan Kuzu, a central focus of last week’s Tweet-storm. Kuzu, however, died from coronavirus in November of last year, limiting the potential fallout of the allegations.
Nevertheless, it is widely believed that the videos and allegations released by Peker have illuminated the extent to which corruption and favoritism have become potent forces in Turkey’s government, and the degree to which the integrity of the country’s institutions have broken down and crumbled under this pressure. Although Peker’s accusations have yet to directly target president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, they have managed to tarnish the image of the ruling AKP, which came to power nearly twenty years ago promising a clean departure from the scandal-ridden governments of the 1990s, epitomized by the 1996 Susurluk incident which exposed the links between Turkey’s “deep state”, Mafias, and ultranationalist groups amidst Turkey’s armed struggle with Kurdish groups in Southeastern Anatolia at the time. As such, the return of mafia-linked scandal to the Turkish political fore is seen by many as a reversion to the country’s old ways.
It remains to be seen the long-term staying power of Peker’s accusatations, and whether the mob boss is still sitting on damaging information as he claims. But with the approach of country-wide elections in 2023, much of the interest in Peker’s videos centers around their potential to be decisive forces against the ruling president and party, and whether his revelations can be harnessed by opposition parties in their quest to dethrone the AKP. While the long-term impacts of his allegations are still uncertain, the return of Sedat Peker this past weekend showed that the mob boss remains capable of divulging damaging exposés of Turkey’s ruling elites, which reveal a nefarious underworld reaching to the highest levels of government in which corruption and favoritism hold significant sway.