From suspected drug trafficking and a murder cover-up to arms transfers to Islamic militants, a convicted crime ringleader has stirred up the filth of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling party through a series of revelatory videos that riveted the nation and made him an unlikely one Social media phenomenon.
Sedat Peker, a 49-year-old fugitive crime boss who once openly supported Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party, has posted nearly 90-minute videos from his stated base in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, depicting scandalous but as yet unproven drip-through accusations , in an obvious attempt to settle scores with political figures.
The weekly YouTube videos were viewed more than 75 million times, causing an uproar, heightened concerns about Turkish state corruption and put officials on the defensive. They have also uncovered alleged rifts between rival factions within the ruling party, compounding Erdogan’s struggles against an economic downturn and the coronavirus pandemic.
On Sunday morning, a couple in Istanbul watched Peking’s latest release. You were among the millions in Turkey who tuned in.
“I added (Peker’s videos) to the category of TV series I watch every week,” said Gulistan Atas. “Like a TV episode, I’m waiting excitedly, and every Sunday week we prepare our breakfast when we get up and watch it with our breakfast.”
Dressed in a vest or a half-buttoned shirt with a medallion, Peker mocks his opponents behind a desk with neatly arranged notes, prayer beads and books and promises to bring about their downfall with nothing but a “tripod and a camera”.
His first videos were aimed at former Interior Minister Mehmet Agar and his son Tolga, a member of the ruling party, whom he accused of raping a young Kazakh journalism student and later covering up her murder as suicide. Mehmet Agar, said Peker, has misappropriated a luxury marina that may have been used for drug trafficking. Agar later resigned from the Marina’s board of directors.
Subsequent videos alleged allegations against pro-government businessmen and media representatives, as well as the son of former Prime Minister Binali Yildirim, who alleged he was involved in drug smuggling from Venezuela. However, the target of Beijing’s most vicious and derisive attacks is Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu, whom he accuses of abuse of power and corruption as he strives to become President of Turkey. Peker justifies all of this by saying that, despite the crime leader’s help, Soylu betrayed him in defeating a rival faction within the ruling party.
All involved have denied Peker’s allegations.
In a controversial claim with an international dimension, the Mafia chief said a former Erdogan security adviser, accused of leading a paramilitary force, had sent weapons to Al-Qaeda-linked militants in Syria. Erdogan has not yet addressed these allegations, although the government has in the past denied allegations of having had armed jihadists.
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’re going to spoil these games, these actions. Nobody should doubt that we will disrupt this devious operation, ”said Erdogan. “We pursue members of criminal gangs wherever they flee … We will not leave these criminals alone until we bring them back to our country and turn them over to justice.”
Peker replied to Erdogan this week, suggesting that the Turkish strongman might be the focus of future videos. He later said he would speak about Erdogan after meeting US President Joe Biden on June 14 so as not to “weaken his hand”. In his latest video on Sunday, he said his revelations were being conducted with respect and would not harm the state itself.
“Find me and bring me (to Turkey) will change reality,” he said.
Opposition parties have meanwhile taken up the allegations to demand the resignation of those involved and parliamentary and judicial investigations.
The ruling party and its nationalist allies have blocked opposition offers in order to initiate parliamentary inquiries into Beijing’s allegations as well as allegations of arms smuggling.
The authorities have issued a new arrest warrant for Peker.
Can Selcuki, director of the survey and analytics platform Turkiye Raporu, said of Peker, “We shouldn’t forget that he is a criminal,” but explained the popularity of the videos as a need for information.
“It seems to me that people are asking these questions to this illegal operator because they can’t get answers anywhere else. And that tells me that there is a growing need for more transparency in Turkish society, “said Selcuki.
Peker addresses his viewers, especially those under 40, as the real owners of Turkey, who have the power to demand accountability and change.
As a nationalist who campaigns for the unity of the Turkish-speaking nations, Peker has been in prison since he was 17 for his involvement in organized crime and other crimes. After his last release in 2014, he held rallies in support of Erdogan’s party and threatened his opponents. His wedding to his lawyer Ozge Peker in 2015 drew many celebrity guests.
An operation was launched against Beijing’s group in April, during which around 60 of his employees were arrested.
His apartment in Istanbul was also searched. Peker claims he was forced to speak up after his wife and two daughters were allegedly mistreated and humiliated in the police raid.
“You’re asking me why I’m doing this,” Peker said on the latest video. “I swear to god I did it out of anger first, I was expecting an apology … Now I don’t know why I’m doing it … I feel like doing it.”
Gulistan Atas’ husband, Alparslan Atas, said Peker’s videos were like the films “The Godfather” and “Scarface” to imprint themselves on people’s memories forever.
“I like that the dirty laundry of the state has come to light and is spreading, because knowing that the people who are in politics with the Koran can do cocaine deals at the same time gives me interesting information,” he said.
Robert Badendieck, Zeynep Bilginsoy, Mehmet Guzel and Ayse Wieting contributed to this report from Istanbul.