A Saudi national who was red-flagged by both the United Nations and the United States on al-Qaeda terror lists was secretly transported on a Turkish government plane on orders from then-Prime Minister and current President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
According to a whistleblower who spoke to Nordic Monitor on condition of anonymity, Yasin al-Qadi, an Egyptian-born Saudi national who was under sanctions for financing terrorism with respect to al-Qaeda, was secretly taken aboard the Turkish government plane, bearing tail number TC-ANA, on October 26, 2011. Erdoğan was returning from a one-day trip to Riyadh, where he extended his condolences for the death of Sultan bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia at the time.
It appears Erdoğan made the visit to specifically pick up al-Qadi as his visit came on Wednesday afternoon, October 26, on very short notice although Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç had already attended a funeral ceremony for the crown prince in the Saudi capital a day earlier, representing the government. Erdoğan had also phoned the Saudi ruler to express his condolences. At the time, his visit was criticized by the political opposition, which claimed Erdoğan was avoiding Turkey’s most important problem during a general meeting in Parliament on the issue of terrorism.
Al-Qadi was designated as al-Qaeda financier by the US Treasury at the time, and the United Nations Al-Qaida Sanctions Committee listed him under terrorism as part of Security Council resolutions. The Turkish government also issued an official circular designating him as a terrorist, barring him from entering Turkey or transferring funds. Al-Qadi was later removed from the UN list, followed by the US Treasury delisting his name.
In a blatant breach of both the UN resolutions and Turkish law, al-Qadi, a close family friend of Erdoğan, was taken aboard the government plane at 20:15 local time at Riyadh’s military airport. A number of hours later, the plane landed in the Turkish capital of Ankara. According to the whistleblower who witnessed the arrival of al-Qadi, Erdoğan and his delegation got off the plane, leaving al-Qadi behind.
Mustafa Varank, then Erdoğan’s chief aide who is now minister of industry and technology, made the arrangements for accommodations for al-Qadi. “Varank was on the phone discussing with somebody what to do about the entry procedures for al-Qadi and whether immigration should stamp his passport to register his entry,” the whistleblower said. In the end no registration was made, and al-Qadi was transported to Istanbul on a private jet owned by a Turkish businessman, the whistleblower added.
Qadi was in corrupt business dealings with Erdoğan’s son Bilal as well as his associates in Istanbul where he had stayed for two months after a trip from Riyadh. A senior police chief accompanied him under orders from Erdoğan, who wanted to ensure al-Qadi’s safe movements in Turkey and help overcome any problems that might arise from his illegal entry and stay in the country.
In Istanbul, Ali Erdoğan, a nephew of President Erdoğan and the de facto head of his protection detail, met the plane on the apron, and al-Qadi was taken to a luxury car on loan from a wealthy Turkish businessman. According to the whistleblower, al-Qadi was moved to a home located in the Alsit Villas in the Sarıyer district of İstanbul. The villa was owned by Cüneyd Zapsu, a close ally of Erdoğan and a friend of al-Qadi. Zapsu was among the founders of Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and was helping al-Qadi move funds around and run various investment schemes.
During his stay in Turkey, al-Qadi was escorted by the ranking police officer and driven by Ali Erdoğan’s private chauffeur. The small protection detail accompanied al-Qadi during both his personal and business-related visits and dealings.
Al-Qadi was also among the few privileged people who were allowed to see Erdoğan following his surgery on November 26, 2011 at Marmara University Teaching and Research Hospital in the Pendik district of Istanbul. He had visited Turkey multiple times secretly and met with Turkish intelligence chief Hakan Fidan to coordinate operations in Syria.
Al-Qadi was on the UN and US lists and was barred by law from entering Turkey or investing in any business pursuant to UN Security Council resolutions 1267 and 1989 concerning al-Qaeda and associated individuals and entities when secret meetings were held between Erdoğan and al-Qadi, with the chief of cabinet arranging the meetings. Al-Qadi secretly entered Turkey multiple times.
Al-Qadi and Erdoğan’s son Bilal were leading suspects in a corruption investigation pursued by prosecutors in Istanbul and were the subjects of detention warrants issued on December 25, 2013 by the prosecutors. However, Erdoğan stepped in, illegally preventing the execution of the warrants by ordering the police to ignore the prosecutors’ orders. After the removal of the prosecutors and police chiefs who were involved in the investigation, Erdoğan managed to whitewash the crimes of his associates.
Moreover, Erdoğan made repeatedly supportive remarks about al-Qadi and defended his advisors and party members’ relationship with the Saudi businessman, saying: “I know al-Qadi, and I believe in him as much as I believe in myself. He is a benevolent lover of Turkey and has investments here. It is impossible that he is connected to terrorism.”