A Turkish businessman who bribed a US State Department employee has links to Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) as well as the Russian Embassy in Ankara, a Nordic Monitor investigation has found.
Deniz Türkkan, the owner of Ankara-based construction, tourism and trading company DVK İnşaat Turizm Mühendislik Sanayi İç ve Dış Ticaret A.Ş., bribed Zaldy N. Sabino, a contracting officer and contract specialist, in the amount of $521,863 between 2012 and 2016 in return for multi-million dollar contracts from the US government in Iraq, Turkey and Yemen.
Türkkan enjoys political connections to the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) while maintaining close links to the Russian Embassy through his wife, Larissa Lutkova Türkkan, head of the Russian Culture Association (Rus Kültür Derneği), an organization that was set up in 2004 with support from the Russian Federation.
Türkkan’s name first turned up in Turkish news headlines when he was among dozens including Turkish troops that were detained in Iraq in 2003 by US troops. On July 4, 2003 US soldiers raided an office used by the Turkish Special Forces in the northern Iraqi city of Sulaimaniya and took 11 Turkish soldiers as well some civilians including Türkkan into custody over allegations that they were planning to assassinate the governor of Kirkuk. They were released a few days later amid tension between Turkey and the US.
According to the US federal indictment, Türkkan used several schemes to deliver cash to contracting officer Sabino, who was working at the time for the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations (OBO). At times he handed the cash over to him during his trips to Washington, D.C., and at other times he let Sabino withdraw cash through an ATM card linked to Türkkan’s bank account at Bank of America. In exchange, Türkkan secured contracts for his company and his business partners located in Turkey and the US.
US indictment of Zaldy N. Sabino, a US State Department employee:sabino_indictment_Deniz_Turkkan_Turkey
The red flags were raised after US investigators found that Sabino was making suspicious cash deposits when he went through a background check during renewal of his top security clearance in 2015. He was unable to explain the source of the cash. In an April 2019 grand jury indictment, Sabino was charged on 17 counts including conspiracy, bribery, wire fraud and making false statements.
The case, investigated by the Department of State’s Office of Inspector General and the FBI’s Washington Field Office, was prosecuted by the US Attorney and he was eventually convicted on 13 counts and sentenced to 87 months in federal prison in February 2020.
Türkkan was not named as a suspect in the federal indictment, but his actions were detailed and his schemes were uncovered during the trial proceedings. He mainly worked as a sub-contractor or a business partner for other firms in Turkey and the US such as major conglomerate Limak and its US partner Desbuild Limak DK JV LLC as well as Trison Construction Inc. Limak appears to be the main company Türkkan had worked closely with, and he most likely obtained the bribe money from there to deliver to the State Department employee.
Limak’s owner Nihat Özdemir is known to be close to Turkish President Erdoğan, and his company has received multi-billion dollar government contracts from the Erdoğan government throughout the years thanks to his ties to the ruling elite in Turkey. He was one of the main suspects in a December 2013 graft probe that incriminated Erdoğan, then prime minister, and senior government officials.
In the corruption case Özdemir was accused of coordinating the collection of a pool of millions of dollars from businessmen for Erdoğan to buy the Turkuaz Media Group — which owns the Sabah daily and the ATV network – in exchange for kickbacks and the awarding of government contracts and tenders in non-competitive bidding schemes. Erdoğan hushed up the case by removing the prosecutors and police chiefs who had uncovered the corruption and helped Özdemir escape from his legal troubles.
Between 2012 and 2016 Türkkan secured five major contracts from the Department of State for his firm DVK as well as for Limak and other business partners. Two contracts covered construction work in Turkey. One was in Ankara for the construction of a campus, pavilion and administration facilities for the US Consulate for over $4 million, and the other was for the installation of a temporary trailer housing system at the US Consulate in Adana for more than $8 million.
He also received contracts for work at the US Embassy in Iraq (valued at some $142 million), the US Consulate in Erbil, Iraq, (nearly $4.5 million), and the US Consulate in Basra, Iraq, ($365,000). While he was being awarded these contracts, he was giving Sabino, who was supervising them, cash and his ATM card. The US indictment detailed most of these deliveries and transactions.
Trade registry records in Turkey indicate that Türkkan’s firm DVK is still in business. He has been advertising his businesses under the umbrella of the Turkish Construction Industry Employers’ Union (INTES). In a publication issued by INTES in August 2016, he listed the Department of State as well as the US Army Corps of Engineers as references and provided photos from the projects he had done for them.
DVK promotion in a Turkish magazine:DVK_promotion_in_Turkish_magazine
Initially set up in September 2011 with a million Turkish lira in capital and several other partners, Türkkan secured 100 percent ownership of DVK in later years. The trade data also show he used to be a partner in two now-defunct companies. Construction firm Epiksan İnşaat Mühendislik San.Ve Tic.Ltd.Şti. was established in 2001 and liquidated in 2012. A medical consulting company, İleri Tip Teknolojileri Danişmanlik Hizmet Ticaret Sanayi Limited Şirketi, was also established in 2001 but went bankrupt in 2015.
Türkkan’s work for the AKP was also acknowledged. He received a citation in February 2021 by the AKP’s local branch in the Etimesgut district of Ankara and was personally visited by AKP district chairman Halil Hotaman, a loyalist and partisan operative close to Erdoğan. In the meantime, he has been a regular guest at Russian Embassy events, and his wife Larissa has been active in promoting Russian culture in coordination with Russian officials.