Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is in West Africa for a four-day official visit to Angola, Nigeria and Togo. Weapons sales and trade deals are the highlight of his trip as the Turkish lira depreciates rapidly at home. Apart from marketing military drones produced by his son-in-law, Erdoğan will lobby to sell armored vehicles manufactured by a Turkish-Qatari venture that is having financial difficulties, Nordic Monitor has learned.
The first leg of the trip started in Angola on Sunday where several mutual agreements on defense, tourism, foreign trade, tourism and culture were signed. Speaking at a press conference after a meeting with Angolan President Manuel Gonçalves Lourenço, Erdoğan said Angola had previously requested unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) from Turkey and that they also had discussed armored carriers on Monday. During the Angolan president’s recent visit to Ankara in July, the sale of drones came up, and he was given a presentation on Turkish defense exports at the Turkish Presidency of Defense Industries. However, it was not reported that Angola was interested in importing any armored vehicles.
Erdoğan reiterated the same promise in Luanda as he had made in Ankara, to support Angola in its fight against terrorism. Angola is one of the most peaceful countries in the world vis-à-vis terrorism, with no serious terrorist acts taking place in Angola since 2010.
BMC manufactures the armored vehicles in Turkey that Erdoğan brought to the agenda of the press conference. Ethem Sancak, a businessman in Erdoğan’s inner circle, bought all of BMC’s shares from the Savings Deposit Insurance Fund for only $300 million in 2014. The opposition said at the time that the sale was far below market value and that Erdoğan had gifted the company to a businessman close to him. It was also rumored that the real owner of the company was Erdoğan himself and that Sancak had been acting on his behalf. Interestingly, right after the acquisition, Sancak transferred 49.9 percent of the company to the Qatari army for $300 million and became a partner of BMC with the Qataris. Sancak later sold 25.1 percent of his remaining shares to Talip Öztürk, a relative of Erdoğan. In June 2021 Fuat Tosyalı, another businessman from Erdoğan’s inner circle, bought all of Sancak and Öztürk’s shares, amounting to a 50.1 percent stake. The sales price was $480 million.
Defense News reported last week that leading armored vehicle maker BMC is going through “liquidity snags” after a recent change in ownership. The company, which has a multibillion-dollar contract in its portfolio to produce the Altay, Turkey’s first new-generation, indigenous tank, is on a shrinking stage of unknown scale, company sources said, speaking on condition of anonymity while discussing internal details.
Nordic Monitor previously reported that the production of 250 Altay tanks was due to be completed just 18 months after the signing of the contract by the Turkish government and BMC in November 2018, but BMC has not yet delivered the tanks to the Turkish Armed Forces although the date has already passed. Defense Minister Hulusi Akar, who is accompanying Erdoğan on his Africa tour, did not respond to questions about the delay by opposition deputies during the 2021 budget session.
The Altay project is Turkey’s first main battle tank development program, which includes electronic command and control systems, a 120-millimeter gun and armor, all of which will be made by Turkish defense companies. The Altay project has been beset by critical technology problems that have impacted its production timeline. It is not yet clear how the engine of the tank will be produced — the Germans are not keen on technology transfer, and Korean companies have not reached the stage where they can present a concrete offer.
“Cash inflows are weak to support corporate-level functioning,” one BMC official admitted to Defense News. “We are hoping that this is only a temporary situation.” Another BMC official blamed the company’s massive debt stock at the time of the takeover. “We took over a debt stock that has become a challenge to manage,” he said. “The company needs new and sizable contracts.”
It is not yet clear whether the new orders for BMC from Erdoğan’s Africa tour will be enough to fix the company’s financial structure. Erdoğan may seek support for the company from the Qatari royal family, with whom he has close ties.
Meanwhile, Tosyalı, the new owner of BMC, has been producing iron and steel in Angola since 2020.