Turkish businessman linked to Mormon brothers’ fraud scheme flees Turkey
Businessman Sezgin Baran Korkmaz has fled Turkey, following raids on six companies under his SBK Holding on charges of money laundering, Sabah newspaper reported on Tuesday.
Istanbul’s chief public prosecutor had issued arrest warrants for 19 people as part of an operation conducted by the megacity’s anti-terror and organised crime police departments.
Ten suspects were detained in raids by the Financial Crimes Division, while authorities determined that eight of the suspects, including Korkmaz himself, had left Turkey.
Korkmaz’s business partners, Jacob and Isaiah Kingston (better known as the Mormon Crime Brothers), pled guilty of conspiracy to defraud the U.S. government and remain in prison in the United States. Arrest warrants issued by Turkish authorities also cover the brothers, their mother Rachel Ann Kingston, and Jacob Kingston’s wife Sally Kingston.
A U.S. court convicted Armenian-Turkish businessman Lev Aslan Dermen of several counts of conspiracy and money laundering in early 2020 in Utah after the jury trial.
Dermen was accused of scheming to file false claims for renewable fuel tax credits along with the Kingston Brothers. Dermen is also known the person who introduced the Kingston Brothers with Korkmaz.
The partners are accused of having transferred $132 million to Korkmaz’s company accounts and accounts of third-parties, and the total amount of fraud exceeds $470 million.
An Istanbul court ordered the seizure of Korkmaz’s assets in Turkey in October for the purposes of collecting evidence. The assets were released in a later court order.
Turkish news website Airport Haber reported that Korkmaz's $30 million yacht left Turkey on Dec. 24, named Queen Anne after Jacob Kingston’s daughter, despite having a foreign travel ban order in place. It is not confirmed whether Korkmaz in the yacht.
The Queen Anne took off from the port of Fethiye on Turkey’s Aegean coast, dropped anchor at the Cypriot port of Limassol, and left the Greek-controlled southern part of the Mediterranean island on Monday to arrive in Beirut by the evening, as seen on maritime tracking website MarineTraffic.
Authorities searched Korkmaz’s companies on Tuesday, but discovered that the company servers had been removed from the premises, leaving them unable to access data. A hangar that belonged to the businessman in Istanbul’s old Atatürk Airport was also searched, but found to be evacuated. Authorities confiscated and removed from the hangar a luxury jet that belonged to Korkmaz, according to Airport News.
Korkmaz has been in the public eye with his previous involvement with the now-bankrupt charter airline Borajet, which he had purchased from businessmen accused of involvement with Fethullah Gülen, a Turkish cleric who lives in self-imposed exile in the United States and is accused by Turkey of having orchestrated several attempts to topple the government including a failed coup attempt in 2016.
Turkish-American entrepreneur Yalçın Ayaslı pressed charges against Korkmaz last year in Washington D.C. for allegedly using extortion and money laundering to acquire Borajet. The trial continues in California.
The fugitive businessman’s ties to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan have been long-speculated, while the president appealed to a court to have photos of the pair together removed from the Internet in October.
Erdoğan’s lawyers appealed to court saying Korkmaz had used his photographs with the Turkish president to weave a false narrative that Erdoğan had supported him.
Korkmaz had met with Erdoğan in 2017 to discuss investments in Turkey by the companies involved in the fraud, Washakie Renewable Energy (WRE) owned by the Kingstons, and SBK Holding owned by Korkmaz. The businessman was also involved in Erdoğan’s efforts to get an early foot in with U.S. President Donald Trump.