From alleged drug trafficking and a murder cover-up to weapons transfers to Islamic militants, a convicted crime ringleader has been dishing the dirt on members of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling party through a series of tell-all videos that have captivated the nation and turned him into an unlikely social media phenomenon.
Sedat Peker, a 49-year-old fugitive crime boss, who once openly supported Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party, has been releasing nearly 90-minute-long videos from his stated base in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, making scandalous, but yet-unproven drip-by-drip allegations, in an apparent bid to settle scores with political figures.
The weekly YouTube videos have been viewed more than 75 million times, causing an uproar, heightening concerns over Turkish state corruption and putting officials on the defensive.
They have also exposed alleged rifts between rival factions within the ruling party and added to Erdogan’s troubles, as he battles an economic downturn and the COVID-19 pandemic.
On Sunday morning, a couple in Istanbul were absorbed while watching Peker’s latest release. They were among millions in Turkey who tuned in.
“I’ve added [Peker’s videos] to the category of TV series I watch every week,” Gulistan Atas said. “Just like a TV episode, I wait in excitement, and every week on Sunday, we prepare our breakfast when we get up and watch them along with our breakfast.”
Clad in a waistcoat or a half-buttoned shirt displaying a medallion, Peker taunts his opponents from behind a desk with neatly arranged notes, prayer beads and books, promising to bring their downfall using nothing more than a “tripod and a camera.”
His initial videos targeted former minister of the interior Mehmet Agar and his son, Tolga, a ruling party lawmaker, whom he accused of raping a young Kazakh journalism student and later covering up her murder as a suicide.
Mehmet Agar, Peker suggested, misappropriated a luxury marina that may have been used in drug trafficking operations. Agar later resigned from the marina’s board.
Subsequent videos leveled accusations against business people and media figures close to the government, as well as former Turkish prime minister Binali Yildirim’s son, claiming he was involved in drug smuggling from Venezuela.
However, the target of Peker’s most vitriolic and mocking attacks is Turkish Minister of the Interior Suleyman Soylu, whom he accuses of abuse of power and corruption while aiming to become Turkey’s president.
Peker justifies the tell-all by saying Soylu betrayed him, despite the crime leader’s help to defeat a rival faction within the ruling party.
All those implicated have rejected Peker’s accusations.
In an explosive claim with global dimensions, the mob boss said that a former security adviser to Erdogan accused of leading a paramilitary force had sent weapons to al-Qaeda-linked militants in Syria.
Erdogan has not yet addressed those claims, although the government has in the past denied allegations that it had armed militants.
Erdogan ignored the Peker videos for weeks, but broke his silence on May 26, when he dismissed earlier allegations by the mafia leader as a conspiracy against Turkey.
“We will spoil these games, these plots. No one should doubt that we will disrupt this devious operation,” Erdogan said. “We pursue members of criminal gangs wherever in the world they flee to ... We will not leave these criminals alone until we bring them back to our country and hand them over to the judiciary.”
Peker responded to Erdogan that week and suggested that the president could be the focus of future videos. He later said he would speak about Erdogan after his meeting with US President Joe Biden on June 14 so as not to “weaken his hand.”
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