A local reporter who worked for Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency turned out to be on the payroll of a gang leader who ran an organized crime network involved in illegal activities ranging from sex trafficking to extortion.
According to court-authorized wiretap records, Sabri Kesen, a journalist in Turkey’s seaside resort town of Marmaris in western Muğla province, had maintained clandestine ties to gang leader Bilgin Özkaynak, who owned the Marmaris Yacht Marina. Kesen was treated with favors by the gang leader, who put him on the payroll in exchange for his services under the guise of journalistic activity.
On November 4, 2011 Özkaynak called his secretary, Işıl Tekin, to ask whether a payment had been made to Kesen and another journalist he called Temel. “Yes, I wired the funds yesterday,” responded Tekin. “From now on, don’t make any more payments,” Özkaynak said.
The purpose of the payment made to Kesen was revealed during the second conversation recorded the next day, when the gang leader called the journalist and reproached him for not delivering what was promised. Stressing that he had taken care of him before and given him money, Özkaynak asked why he did not show up at a hearing in a trial concerning his son Demokan Özkaynak, who was killed in a gun fight in June 2010.
Transcript of the wiretap that shows journalist Sabri Kesen was put on the payroll by the gang leader:sabri_kesen1
Özkaynak was trying to change the course of the trial using coverage provided by Kesen as well the reporter’s connection to influential people. Demokan, a biker, and his friend Levent Bakıray got into fight with an attendant in a parking space dispute near a beach club owned by Burhan Ataalp. Bakıray fired his unlicensed gun at both the attendant and Ataalp, whose return fire killed Demokan and injured Bakıray. In his defense, Ataalp claimed they were simply defending themselves after they were fired on.
On the phone, Kesen assured Özkaynak that he was on top of the case, talking to people in power through his brother’s connections. He said he went to his hometown of Ordu just to take care of the gang leader’s business because the influential people he previously mentioned would be gathering there. His brother, who works for the Kocaeli Municipality as a department head, tagged along with him to meet these people in order to alter the course of the trial. The Kocaeli Municipality was run by the Justice and Development Party (AKP), also the ruling party of the central government.
Angry at Kesen, Özkaynak rebuked the journalist and said the man who shot his son would be acquitted in a month’s time and walk free. He said the journalist should have reported what he had been doing directly to him, and he recalled that he gave his direct phone number to the journalist so that he could call him day or night. Kesen defended himself by saying that he let a man named Mehmet know about the trip and did not want to bother Özkaynak with it.
The journalist tried to calm the gang leader down on the phone, saying there would be an appeal and that he had been talking to people about overruling the court’s decision when it went to appeal. Özkaynak did not sound convinced at all, saying that the appeal did not matter as long as the man who was accused of the murder walked free for all the time it would take for an appeal to be decided.
The wiretapped conversation between journalist Sabri Kesen and gang leader Bilgin Özkaynak:sabri_kesen2
The relationship between the two apparently survived this angry conversation as another wiretap on November 28, 2011 showed that the journalist called the gang leader, expressing his respect and reaffirming that he was ready to do whatever he wanted. “I’m always at your command whenever there is a job that needs doing,” Kesen told Özkaynak, stressing how the gang leader was very important to him and that he would always be ready to take orders from him on any matter. “Father, I will try to take care of it wherever you are,” he added, using the term “father” out of respect for the crime boss. “Do you have any order, any wish for me, Sir?” Kesen asked again at the end of the conversation, receiving praise from Özkaynak in return.
Kesen, 44, had started his journalism career after graduating a religious imam hatip school in the town of Fatsa, located in the central Black Sea region. He moved to Marmaris and started working for a local newspaper. He took jobs with various outlets and even owned a local newspaper for a while. He was then hired by the Anadolu news agency.
The wiretaps were part of long-running investigation pursued by prosecutors against dozens of suspects in an organized crime network that was primarily operating in the western province of Izmir. An initial investigation report dated December 3, 2010 indicated that the gang forced women to engage in sex and seized the passports of foreign women who were lured to Turkey and forced to work in honey trap schemes. The gang was recording the sexual encounters to blackmail government officials. The report showed that the police obtained wiretap authorizations from the court in order to learn more about the gang and ferret out the network.
The investigators had worked on the case for two years, obtained wiretap authorizations from the courts and ran surveillance on suspects to decode the network. It turned out the gang was much more than a sex trafficking network and resembled more of an espionage group collecting top secret information from various government and military officials through honey traps, sexual favors or blackmail. Among the thousands of pages of secret documents were classified NATO and FBI documents that were shared with the Turkish government as a member of the alliance.
Özkaynak was the leader of the organized crime network, and police discovered an abundance of classified documents, recordings, photos and other materials during a search of his summer home in the town of Sapanca near Istanbul.
The first wave of arrests took place on May 9-10, 2012 at the order of prosecutors, and additional criminal evidence was gathered from the homes and offices of suspects during the execution of search and seizure warrants. More arrests were made after further evidence was obtained from the suspects and their homes and workplaces. In the end 357 suspects including 55 active duty officers and numerous retired officers were indicted when the prosecutor filed criminal charges against the gang in 2013.
The indictment also revealed how NATO and US security was compromised. For example, NATO documents such as the assets and capabilities of the Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EAD) units operating in every NATO member state, secret US and NATO directives in bomb-making and bomb-diffusion techniques, FBI bomb-making analyses, electronic warfare data used in the NATO alliance, technical, tactical and procedural data for F-16s and sensitive information on US-made Hawk medium-range surface-to-air missile systems.
However, the criminal case against the gang members was quashed by the Erdoğan government, and all the suspects were let go. Özkaynak was arrested in July 2012 and sent to jail but was released on July 7, 2014 through government intervention. In the meantime, prosecutors, judges and police investigators who uncovered the massive organized crime network were punished either by dismissal or arrest on trumped-up charges.