Mafia boss’ claims cast pall over Biden-Erdogan meeting

Mafia boss’ claims cast pall over Biden-Erdogan meeting
Sedat Peker. (Photo/Twitter)
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Updated 07 June 2021

Mafia boss’ claims cast pall over Biden-Erdogan meeting

Mafia boss’ claims cast pall over Biden-Erdogan meeting
  • Crime fugitive alleges minister warned corrupt businessman Sezgin Baran Korkmaz to flee country

JEDDAH: Most Turks were eagerly awaiting Sunday to watch the latest video and whistleblowing claims from a notorious gangland figure who was close to the government until recently.

In his ninth video, Turkey’s fugitive mafia leader Sedat Peker, who is believed to live in Dubai, claimed that Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu had alerted corrupt businessman Sezgin Baran Korkmaz to flee the country to avoid prosecution.

Last September, US prosecutors in Utah submitted a list of properties belonging to the Kingston brothers, Korkmaz’s business partners, to a US court and asked them to be reclaimed, as they were found guilty to a $470 million fraud of a government program.

These properties included companies and real estate in Turkey.

US authorities revealed that the brothers transferred huge sums of money in fraudulent proceeds to several companies, some in Turkey, on the instruction of Armenian-Turkish businessman Lev Aslan Dermen, who was allegedly financing Korkmaz’s business activities in Turkey.

In early May, Turkish prosecutors prepared an indictment into Korkmaz over money laundering through the transfer of his income in the US illegally to the companies he owns as part of a decade-long scheme to cheat US authorities out of at least $470 million.

Peker claimed that on Dec. 5, Korkmaz and Soylu met in the interior ministry in Ankara for two hours, and the minister warned Korkmaz that he was being investigated.

Korkmaz fled the country the next day. A detention warrant was issued for Korkmaz as part of a probe into money laundering worth $132 million.

Peker, who said that Korkmaz was invited to the ministry headquarters by a deputy police chief, urged opposition parties to check all security footage of that day when the businessman was filmed when entering the ministry building.

The gangland boss also claimed that a critical $45 million money transaction between Korkmaz and a Turkish businessman was also known to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The transaction came from a purchase made by Korkmaz in September 2020 of Luxembourg-based Silcolux Investment. Forty-five percent of the shares in the company were owned by Turkish businessman Inan Kirac.

This purchase gave Korkmaz 45 percent of the shares of Kirac and about one third of Karsan Automotive a partner of a large group that is designing Turkey’s first indigenous car — one of Erdogan’s “signature” projects.

Last year, Kirac asked Korkmaz to return his shares after the money laundering investigation, but he refused. A deal was reached later after the intervention of the Turkish presidency, Peker claimed.

Peker, a former ally of the Turkish government, has released bombshell videos in which he confesses to corrupt activities and details his partnership with senior government figures.

The mafia boss also fled Turkey due to an approaching investigation against him. He was promised a return to his homeland in April, but a nationwide police operation was launched in April targeting him and his associates.

Although the allegations have shaken Turkish domestic politics, the government has yet to react strongly or provide convincing answers to the claims.

Peker’s latest video, entitled “We are growing not by aging and living, but by resisting,” has been watched by more than 6.6 million people since early Sunday.

With Erdogan and his US counterpart Joe Biden meeting on June 14 at NATO summit, how the US authorities react to the bombshell claims about a key person involved in a major fraud scheme in the US is a source of concern.

Peker said that Metin Kulunk, a senior figure in Turkish domestic politics and a former deputy from the ruling Justice and Development Party, recently asked him not to release the video before the Erdogan-Biden meeting.

However, this request appears to have further irritated the mafia boss who claims that wants to take revenge on government officials who were involved in raids on his residence.

In the same video, Peker said he was giving money to Kulunk every month during election periods, and was also sending money to German-based associations connected with the Turkish government in order to support their criminal activities.

In recent years, the German press revealed close links between Kulunk, a confidant of Erdogan, with a boxing group named Osmanen Germania that was involved in organized crime.

The gang was accused of targeting opponents of the Turkish government, especially Kurds living in Germany.

German media, especially Frontal 21, an investigative news program on public broadcaster ZDF and the daily Stuttgarter Nachrichten, accused Kulunk of providing the gang with money to buy weapons and organize protests.

The investigation into the group, which is believed to have 2,500 members in Germany, was based on phone taps and monitoring.

German police revealed that the boxing group had close contact with the Union of European Turkish Democrats, the ruling Justice and Development Party’s lobbying group abroad.


Paul George leads Clippers over Suns, 106-92 in Game 3

LA Clippers' Patrick Beverley knocks the ball from the hands of Suns' Devin Booker during Game 3 of the NBA West finals on June 24, 2021. (Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images/AFP)
LA Clippers' Patrick Beverley knocks the ball from the hands of Suns' Devin Booker during Game 3 of the NBA West finals on June 24, 2021. (Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images/AFP)
Updated 5 min 45 sec ago

Paul George leads Clippers over Suns, 106-92 in Game 3

LA Clippers' Patrick Beverley knocks the ball from the hands of Suns' Devin Booker during Game 3 of the NBA West finals on June 24, 2021. (Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images/AFP)
  • Kawhi Leonard remained out with a right knee sprain, leaving George to carry the load again
  • Game 4 is Saturday night at Staples Center

LOS ANGELES: Paul George scored 27 points and the Los Angeles Clippers pulled away in a dominant third quarter, beating newly returned Chris Paul and the Phoenix Suns 106-92 on Thursday night in Game 3 of the Western Conference finals.
The Clippers cut their series deficit to 2-1, ending the Suns’ franchise-record playoff winning streak at nine games.
Kawhi Leonard remained out with a right knee sprain, leaving George to carry the load again. After missing two crucial free throws in a one-point loss in Game 2, Paul had 15 rebounds and eight assists and played a game-high 43 minutes. He made 6 of 7 free throws.
The Suns got Paul back after he missed the first two games while being sidelined since June 16 because of the NBA’s health and safety protocols. The former Clipper, who was booed heartily during intros, had 15 points and 12 assists, but was 5 of 19 from the field.
Deandre Ayton led the Suns with 18 points.
Reggie Jackson added 23 points for the Clippers, and Ivica Zubac had 15 points and tied his career playoff high with 16 rebounds.
Game 4 is Saturday night at Staples Center.
After Phoenix won the first two games by a combined seven points, the teams played a close first half. Then the Clippers went to work in front of their raucous, Thunder Stix-pounding fans.
They took control with the biggest run of the game, a 21-3 spurt that left them leading 71-56 in the third. Terance Mann got it going with six straight points and Jackson scored four in a row before George scored inside. Zubac dunked off George’s pass and made a pair of free throws. The Suns were limited to a 3-pointer by Paul.
Devin Booker picked up his third and fourth fouls in a 42-second span during the Clippers’ run. Booker — wearing a clear mask to protect his nose that required stitches after he and Patrick Beverley banged heads in Game 2 — was 5 of 21 from the field, making only one of seven 3-point tries, and finished with 15 points.
Jae Crowder, who assisted on Deandre Ayton’s winning dunk on Tuesday, fouled out with 4:51 remaining. He had nine points, six rebounds and six assists.
George capped the third by banking in a 3-pointer from just inside midcourt, and it beat the buzzer, stunning the fans and sending the Clippers into the fourth leading 80-69. He nearly bobbled the ball along the right sideline, with Booker and Cam Johnson pressuring, before getting the shot off.
Luke Kennard opened the fourth with a 3 from the right corner, getting fouled and making the free throw. Marcus Morris hit a three before George got fouled. He confidently made both, keeping the Clippers ahead 89-71.
Cameron Payne, who so ably filled in for Paul in the first two games, went down with a left ankle injury after playing four minutes and didn’t return.

TIP-INS
Suns: Fell to 10-3 in the playoffs, losing for the first time since May 27 against the Lakers at Staples Center in Game 3 of the first round. ... Booker and Beverley were called for double technicals in the third. ... Paul and Booker each missed their first six shots of the game and were both 2 of 10 with seven points each in the first half.
Clippers: Zubac is the first Clipper with a double-double in the first half of a postseason game since DeAndre Jordan on April 30, 2017, against Utah. ... Longtime fan Billy Crystal sat courtside.
 


FBI says search for fabled gold in Pennsylvania ended up empty; other parties believe otherwise

FBI says search for fabled gold in Pennsylvania ended up empty; other parties believe otherwise
Updated 25 June 2021

FBI says search for fabled gold in Pennsylvania ended up empty; other parties believe otherwise

FBI says search for fabled gold in Pennsylvania ended up empty; other parties believe otherwise
  • Legendary gold cache was supposedly US government gold “stolen during the Civil War” and hidden in a Pennsylvania cave
  • Court documents show the FBI sought a federal judge permission to dig, fearing Pennsylvania would seize the treasure

An FBI agent applied for a federal warrant in 2018 to seize a fabled cache of US government gold he said was “stolen during the Civil War” and hidden in a Pennsylvania cave, saying the state might take the gold for itself if the feds asked for permission, according to court documents unsealed Thursday.
The newly unsealed affidavit confirms previous reporting by The Associated Press that the government had been looking for a legendary cache of gold at the site, which federal authorities had long refused to confirm. In any case, the FBI said, the dig came up empty.
The AP and The Philadelphia Inquirer petitioned a federal judge to unseal the case. Federal prosecutors did not oppose the request, and the judge agreed, paving the way for Thursday’s release of documents.
“I have probable cause to believe that a significant cache of gold is secreted in the underground cave” in Dent’s Run, holding “one or more tons” belonging to the US government, wrote Jacob Archer of the FBI’s art crime team in Philadelphia.
Archer told the judge he needed a seizure warrant because he feared that if the federal government sought permission from the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources to excavate the site, the state would claim the gold for itself, setting up a costly legal battle.
“I am concerned that, even if DCNR gave initial consent for the FBI to excavate the cache of gold secreted at the Dent’s Run Site, that consent could be revoked before the FBI recovered the United States property, with the result of DCNR unlawfully claiming that that cache of gold is abandoned property and, thus, belongs to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania,” the affidavit said.
Archer also revealed allegations against a legislative staffer who, he wrote, tried to get some of the loot for himself.
In 2013, the affidavit said, the legislative staffer contacted a pair of treasure hunters who had identified the likely site of the gold. The staffer “corruptly” offered to get the treasure hunters a state permit to dig “in return for three bars of gold or ten percent” of whatever they recovered. The staffer said he was acting on behalf of others in state government, according to Archer, including “someone who controlled money going to DCNR and someone working in the Pennsylvania governor’s office.”
No one has been charged in connection with the case, and federal prosecutors say they consider the matter closed. A spokesperson for the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources declined comment.
The FBI had long refused to explain exactly why it went digging on state-owned land in Elk County in March 2018, saying only in written statements over the years that agents were there for a court-authorized excavation of “what evidence suggested may have been a cultural heritage site.”
According to the affidavit, the FBI based its request for a seizure warrant partly on the work done by the treasure hunters, who had made hundreds of trips to the area. The father-son duo told authorities they believed they had found the location of the fabled Union gold, which, according to legend, was either lost or stolen on its way to the US Mint in Philadelphia in 1863.
After meeting with the treasure hunters in early 2018, the FBI brought in a contractor with more sophisticated instruments. The contractor detected an underground mass that weighed up to nine tons and had the density of gold, the affidavit said.

Shutterstock treasure hunt illustration image

That amount of gold would today be worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
Archer wrote that he also spoke with a journalist, identified as “Person 3,” who had done extensive research on a Civil War-era group called the Knights of the Golden Circle. The KGC, Archer wrote, was a secret society of Confederate sympathizers that had purportedly “buried secret caches of weapons, coins, and gold and silver bullion, much of which was stolen from robberies of banks, trains carrying payroll of the Union Army during the Civil War and from northern army military posts, in southern, western and northern states.”
Archer said that a turtle carving found on a rock near the proposed dig site was “very likely ... a KGC marker for that site.”
Archer wasn’t able to confirm the US Mint had actually missed any expected shipments of gold because the Mint did not have records for the Civil War period, the affidavit said.
The FBI apparently did not indicate to the judge, in writing, what it found at the site, according to the documents unsealed Thursday. A spokesperson for the US attorney’s office in Philadelphia said that no such document was filed with the court because the dig came up empty.
Dennis and Kem Parada, co-owners of the treasure-hunting outfit Finders Keepers, have said they believe the FBI found gold at the site. They are seeking thousands of pages of FBI documents about the investigation as well as video files of the dig.
Their attorney, Bill Cluck, said the court documents revealed Thursday simply raise more questions.
He noted the warrant granted by US Magistrate Judge Richard Lloret gave FBI agents permission to dig from 6 a.m to 10 p.m. But residents have told of hearing a backhoe and jackhammer overnight — when the excavation was supposed to have been paused — and seeing a convoy of FBI vehicles, including large armored trucks.
In addition, it is telling that the FBI never checked back with the contractor whose sensitive instruments had indicated the possible presence of gold to ask what went wrong, said Warren Getler, the journalist identified as “Person 3” in the affidavit.
“Did the science really go wrong? I am not so sure about that,” said Getler, author of “Rebel Gold,” a book exploring the possibility of buried Civil War-era caches of gold and silver.
“Why did they send four or five armored cars after the fact?” he asked. “Why did they work under cover of darkness? Why did they kick us off the mountain at 3 p.m. that day when we were supposed to be working as partners?”
The FBI assertion of an empty hole is “insulting all the credible people who did this kind of work,” Dennis Parada previously told the AP. “It was a slap in the face, really, to think all these people could make that kind of mistake.”


Residents in Saudi Arabia above 50 set for second vaccine dose

Residents in Saudi Arabia above 50 set for second vaccine dose
Updated 25 June 2021

Residents in Saudi Arabia above 50 set for second vaccine dose

Residents in Saudi Arabia above 50 set for second vaccine dose
  • More than 48 percent of the country’s population has received at least 1 dose

JEDDAH: The Saudi Ministry of Health (MoH) announced that residents in the Kingdom above the age of 50 will now be able to receive their second dose of the coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine after completing more than 40 days from their first dose.

More than 17 million doses have been administered as 48.8 percent of the country’s population has been inoculated with at least one dose.

The Kingdom recorded 1,255 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday, bringing the total number of confirmed cases to 479,390.

Most new cases were in the Makkah region with 340, followed by the Eastern Province (282) and Riyadh (203) while Jouf had only six people who tested positive.

There are 11,322 active cases while the number of critical cases dropped to 1,451 compared to the day before. Fourteen new COVID-19-related deaths have raised the total number of fatalities to 7,730.

The MoH said that a further 1,247 patients had recovered from COVID-19, bringing the total number of recoveries in the Kingdom to 460,338. The country’s recovery rate is currently at 96 percent and holding steady.

In addition, 91,021 new polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests conducted in the past 24 hours have raised the number of tests conducted in the Kingdom to over 21.3 million.

Testing hubs and treatment centers set up throughout the country have dealt with hundreds of thousands of people since the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak.

Among them, Taakad (make sure) centers provide COVID-19 testing for those who show no or only mild symptoms or believe they have come into contact with an infected individual. Tetamman (rest assured) clinics offer treatment and advice to those with virus symptoms such as fever, loss of taste and smell, and breathing difficulties.

Appointments for both services can be made via the ministry’s Sehhaty app.

Meanwhile, Jeddah authorities closed 32 commercial outlets for breaching COVID-19 protocols.

Municipalities in the Kingdom have stepped up their efforts to ensure compliance with COVID-19 safety measures designed to protect public health.

The municipality of Jeddah governorate carried out 3,899 inspection tours of commercial centers and facilities in one day, identifying 57 violations.

The violations varied between noncompliance with social distancing and wearing a mask, leniency in measuring the temperature of customers, overcrowding issues and failure to effectively use the Tawakkalna app.

Officials have urged the public to report any suspected health breaches by phoning the 940 call center number or using the Balady app.


Saudi Arabia reports 120% jump in research published in major journals

Saudi Arabia reports 120% jump in research published in major journals
Updated 25 June 2021

Saudi Arabia reports 120% jump in research published in major journals

Saudi Arabia reports 120% jump in research published in major journals
  • The ministry has contributed to defining the national priorities in scientific research and innovations by organizing scientific events in cooperation with national authorities and industrial sectors

JEDDAH: The number of scientific research papers and innovations from Saudi Arabia’s government universities has increased dramatically in the past year.

The number of scientific publications from Saudi universities published in international refereed magazines and journals rose by 120 percent in 2020. The number of research papers rose to 33,588, almost doubling the target set last year at 18,000 publications. 

The Kingdom ranked first in the Arab world and second in the Middle East and North African region for the quality of published research papers for the third consecutive year according to the Nature Index 2020, one of the world’s most important international indexes for institutional research performance, evaluating and comparing international academic institutions. 

Saudi Arabia also ranked 14th worldwide in the publication of distinguished research papers and provision of solutions for the coronavirus pandemic. Saudi Arabia’s Education Ministry has supported scientific research and innovation across governmental universities. 

Its efforts have ensured that the universities keep up with contemporary changes, improve learning outcomes and support the innovation-based national economy through setting the Kingdom’s research priorities.

The ministry has also developed a strategy for scientific research, including a special research identity for each university, to improve the rate of publishing and optimize its impact in line with national needs and Vision 2030’s goals.

Several programs have also been launched to support research and innovation across universities, such as the institutional funding initiative to support scientific research serving the national priorities and needs of the industrial sector. 

The ministry has contributed to defining the national priorities in scientific research and innovations by organizing scientific events in cooperation with national authorities and industrial sectors. These efforts have allowed the ministry to define 12 priorities.


Where We Are Shopping Today: LocoSonix

Where We Are Shopping Today: LocoSonix
Updated 25 June 2021

Where We Are Shopping Today: LocoSonix

Where We Are Shopping Today: LocoSonix

LocoSonix bills itself as “a Saudi skate shop and active lifestyle shop.” Founder Safi Marroun first got into skateboarding when he was studying in California, and he was inspired to start LocoSonix — a hybrid of “locomotion” and “ultrasonics” — when he returned to Saudi, to support the local skating community.

LocoSonix sells skateboards, longboards, scooters, roller skates, inline skates, and ice skates, as well as a full range of components, which can all be customized to ensure each customer gets a unique board.

Even non-skaters might be interested in the store’s range of accessories, including bags, footwear and clothing inspired by skate culture.

LocoSonix also provides courses for those interested in taking up skating, as well as a maintenance service.

With its blend of creativity and athleticism, skating — and skate culture in general — is becoming an increasingly popular activity in the Kingdom. Many Saudi cities now have areas suitable for skaters to safely practice.