In an article set to be published Tuesday, Newsweek will allege that the Turkish government is threatening US President-elect Donald Trump’s business interests in Turkey as a means of forcing the extradition of a US-based imam who Turkey claims was the mastermind of July’s attempted coup.
MSNBC anchor Rachel Maddow reported on Monday the findings of Kurt Eichenwald’s article, which she said begins with a congratulatory phone call from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan following Trump’s election victory. During the call, the president-elect was said to have complimented a Turkish business executive with whom Trump had negotiated a licensing deal to use the Trump Towers brand name for a housing complex in Istanbul.
The business executive to whom Trump was supposedly referring was Mehmet Ali Yalcindag, who is the son-in-law of Dogan Holding founder Aydin Dogan, the developer behind the Trump Towers in Istanbul.
Yalcindag and Dogan were arrested on December 1, just weeks after the phone call, on “threadbare” charges for alleged involvement in July’s coup, according to the Newsweek report.
Maddow explained that as “Turkey desperately wants the US government to extradite” the imam, Fetullah Gulen, to Turkey, “they started locking up” Dogan executives in order to “squeeze the personal financial interests” of Trump as a means of leverage. The US has thus far refused to extradite Gulen.
The imam, who lives in Pennsylvania, is a former ally of Erdogan who helped the mercurial Turkish ruler consolidate power, most notably by assisting him in locking up leading generals of Turkey’s coup-prone military through his large following among the country’s police and judges. However, the two had a falling out after Erdogan alleged that corruption allegations against him and his allies were trumped up by Gulen-allied police and judiciary officials. Their relationship came to a head this summer after Erdogan claimed that Gulen had orchestrated the coup attempt in July.
The coup, which was organized by secular officers seeking to put an end to Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) Islamist-inspired rule, quickly fizzled out after Turkish citizens took to the streets to confront the soldiers. Nearly 300 people are reported to have died during the clashes.
Since then, Erdogan has launched a wide-scale purge, in which tens of thousands of teachers, police officers, judges and journalists have lost their jobs over their alleged links to Gulen, in what many critics of the president have described as a witchhunt against his political adversaries.
The Newsweek report seems to confirm the fears expressed by many since Trump’s election that foreign governments will take advantage of his business interests as a means of influencing US policy. Since his election victory, Bahrain and Azerbaijan have booked events at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, while work on a long-stalled Trump project in Buenos Aires began following a phone call between Trump and Argentinian President Mauricio Macri.
Under the US Constitution’s Emolument’s Clause, government officials are forbidden from accepting gifts from foreign countries without the approval of Congress. While the use of Trump hotels by foreign governments or the granting of licenses for building projects may not in itself violate the statute, it generates an apparent conflict of interests that some see as a major source for concern during Trump’s presidency.