Turkey, US battle over extradition of shadowy fugitive

Turkish police stand guard in Ankara. (AP file photo)
Turkish police stand guard in Ankara. (AP file photo)
Short Url
Updated 05 July 2021

Turkey, US battle over extradition of shadowy fugitive

Turkish police stand guard in Ankara. (AP file photo)
  • Speaking from jail to a Turkish reporter, Korkmaz said he would rather face justice at home, where he is also wanted for money laundering and fraud

ANKARA: A fugitive Turkish businessman who wants to return home to avoid US prosecution is due to appear in an Austrian court on Monday carrying secrets with potential geopolitical ramifications.
The list of scandals implicating businessman Sezgin Baran Korkmaz is long, stretching back to the early months of former US President Donald Trump’s administration.
It also involves a cast of colorful cohorts, including two polygamist sectarians in Utah, Jacob and Isaiah Kingston, and a California-based fuel company owner named in US documents as Levon Termendzhyan.
US prosecutors allege that Korkmaz laundered more than $133 million in fraud proceeds through bank accounts that he controlled in Turkey and Luxembourg. They accuse him and accomplices of using the money to buy the Turkish airline Borajet, hotels in Turkey and Switzerland, a yacht called the Queen Anne, and a villa and apartment overlooking the Bosphorus in Istanbul. The superceding indictment, unsealed last month, charged Korkmaz with one count of conspiring to commit money laundering, 10 counts of wire fraud and one count of obstruction of an official proceeding.
He was arrested on June 19 when Austria acted on an international arrest notice and is due to appear in court on Monday, his lawyer said on Twitter.
American prosecutors want him tried in the US. Speaking from jail to a Turkish reporter, Korkmaz said he would rather face justice at home, where he is also wanted for money laundering and fraud. The businessman has denied the claims against him.
US officials know the likelihood of Ankara extraditing Korkmaz should he be sent back to Turkey is low.
A large part of the reason lies in Washington’s refusal to hand over a US-based Turkish cleric President Recep Tayyip Erdogan believes plotted a failed coup against him in 2016.
A protracted legal battle could add to strains in US-Turkish relations, which began to sour after Erdogan survived the attempted putsch.
The Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project found that Korkmaz played a role in Ankara’s efforts to curry favor with Trump in his first years in the White House.
The investigative group also alleged in March that Korkmaz facilitated a 2018 trip for Americans linked to Trump who sought to secure detained US pastor Andrew Brunson’s release from Turkey.
The pastor’s fate became a major issue for Trump, who thrust him to the fore of US-Turkish relations until Brunson’s eventual release in late 2018.
Analysts note that Korkmaz’s case comes just as Erdogan — facing sagging domestic approval numbers — is trying to iron out diplomatic problems so that he can secure foreign investment and boost economic growth.


Houthis accused of torturing prisoners to death in Yemen

Houthis accused of torturing prisoners to death in Yemen
Updated 28 min 4 sec ago

Houthis accused of torturing prisoners to death in Yemen

Houthis accused of torturing prisoners to death in Yemen
  • Local and international rights groups have demanded independent investigations into the deaths

ALEXANDRIA: The Houthis have been accused of torturing hundreds of prisoners to death since taking power in late 2014.

Yemen’s Human Rights Ministry said that 350 prisoners, including 33 women, had died from extreme torture and deliberate medical negligence during the last seven years. It added that the militia was still using the same harsh methods on prisoners in areas under their control.

Activists warned inmates were being subjected to human rights abuses in Houthi-controlled prisons and that they could die if the international community did not intervene.

In a statement seen by Arab News, the ministry said it had documented 1,635 cases of mental and physical torture, deprivation of life-saving medical treatment and execution of prisoners in jails controlled by the Houthis in Sanaa, Hajjah, Thamar and other provinces.

The Mothers of Abductees Association, an umbrella organization for female relatives of war prisoners, said that its figures of the number of deaths inside Houthi prisons were close to the government’s figures.

Amat Al-Salam Al-Hajj, the organization’s chairwoman, told Arab News that 319 had died from torture inside Houthi prisons.

The ministry and rights groups said the latest confirmed victim of Houthi abuse was a prisoner called Mohsen Mohammed Al-Qadhi, who was reportedly executed inside a Thamar prison last week.

The ministry said he was abducted from his home in Dhamar city a year ago. Large bruises on his body indicated the physical torture he had been subjected to.

“This crime is an extension of a series of crimes and grave violations committed by the Houthi militia against the kidnapped and forcibly displaced men, women and children in their detention centers, who are subjected to the worst types of physical and psychological torture,” the ministry said.

Local and international rights groups have demanded independent investigations into the deaths.

The Geneva-based SAM Organization for Rights and Liberties condemned the killing of Al-Qadhi and accused the militia of violating international laws by abusing prisoners.

It disputed the Houthis’ claims that he had died from an unintentional shooting.

Rights Radar, a group established in the Netherlands by Yemeni activists, also called for an independent probe into his death.

Former prisoners and former officials at Houthi-controlled prisons told Arab News that prisoner abuse was rife, saying they had heard stories of many prisoners committing suicide to escape horrific treatment.

Essam Balghaith, a Yemeni journalist who was released from a Houthi jail during a prisoner swap, said torture was widespread and that many inmates tried to kill themselves as they could not bear torture.

“I heard about many cases of suicide attempts by prisoners due to extreme torture,” he told Arab News. “I witnessed the death of a prisoner who was brutally tortured and deprived of medication.”

Ahmed Arman, Yemen’s minister of human rights, urged international rights groups to expose Houthi crimes against prisoners and pressure the rebels to release them.

“The international community and international organizations that work in Yemen must be transparent about Houthi violations and crimes,” he told Arab News.


Israel’s top court postpones making decision on eviction of Jerusalemites

Israel’s top court postpones making decision on eviction of Jerusalemites
Updated 34 min 3 sec ago

Israel’s top court postpones making decision on eviction of Jerusalemites

Israel’s top court postpones making decision on eviction of Jerusalemites
  • Activists fear postponement will only delay another eviction attempt
  • Jordanian government documents are a game-changer in defeating legal case, says anonymous Palestinian official

AMMAN: The Israeli Supreme Court has postponed a ruling on the case of four Palestinian families who are fighting eviction orders from their homes in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood.

The court held a hearing on the case of the Palestinian families facing expulsion by Israeli settlers in annexed east Jerusalem, an issue that was part of the start of the violent conflict in May.

Previous attempts by the court to make the families stay as protected tenants were rejected by the Palestinians through their lawyers.

A senior Palestinian government official intimately involved in the case told Arab News on condition of anonymity that the documents presented by the Jordanian government in recent days were a game-changer.

“The authenticated documents presented by the government of Jordan showing that the Palestinian homes were about to be registered when the 1967 war took place apparently complicated the attempts by the Israeli court to rule in favor of the Jewish settlers.

“Jordan’s latest documents were the game-changer in this case,” the source told Arab News.

They added: “It is very difficult now for the Israeli government to justify this ethnic cleansing of homes built by the Jordanian government in agreement with the UN for the Palestinians of Sheikh Jarrah.”

The decision late on Monday followed day-long protests outside the west Jerusalem court building,

Protesters raised signs in Arabic, English and Hebrew calling for “justice” to Sheikh Jarrah, demand an “end to the Israeli apartheid regime” and stating “we are not leaving our land.”

Jerusalem Orthodox Bishop Atallah Hanna told Arab News that the delay was made to keep the story quiet.

“It may take a month or two but the postponement does not mean cancellation of the eviction order. They might surprise us with something else at a later stage.”

Jamal Dajani, former director of communications in the office of the Palestinian prime minister, told Arab News that the postponement is due to the success of the daily demonstrations, international media, social media, and political pressure.

“The concern is that the Israeli authorities are just kicking the can down the road, waiting for the right moment ... to evict the Palestinian families. The pressure must continue and activists must remain vigilant.”

Dajani, an east Jerusalem resident, said that what is needed is a cancellation, not postponements.  

“A fair and just ruling would be to cancel eviction orders — I’m afraid that this is just a temporary band-aid.”

Sami Abu Shehadeh, a member of the Israeli Knesset, is the head of the Balad/Tajamu party. The member of the Israeli Parliament for the Joint List tweeted that any decision regarding Sheikh Jarrah must take into consideration that east Jerusalem is occupied, that settlements are war crimes and that Israeli laws negate restitution of pre-1948 Palestinian property.

Shehadeh, who is a Palestinian historian, said that the solution is simple: “Respect international law, end the occupation and achieve equal rights.”


Italy FM tells Libya: ‘We are at your side’

“Italy is at your side, we will continue to support you,” Luigi Di Maio (pictured) told Libyan Prime Minister Abdel Hamid Dbeibah during his fifth visit to Tripoli since the beginning of the year. (AFP/File Photo)
“Italy is at your side, we will continue to support you,” Luigi Di Maio (pictured) told Libyan Prime Minister Abdel Hamid Dbeibah during his fifth visit to Tripoli since the beginning of the year. (AFP/File Photo)
Updated 02 August 2021

Italy FM tells Libya: ‘We are at your side’

“Italy is at your side, we will continue to support you,” Luigi Di Maio (pictured) told Libyan Prime Minister Abdel Hamid Dbeibah during his fifth visit to Tripoli since the beginning of the year. (AFP/File Photo)
  • Di Maio’s fifth visit to country in 2021 sees talks in Tripoli, Benghazi and Tobruk
  • Reveals donation of 240k coronavirus vaccines and urges stability, cooperation

ROME: Italy will continue its support for Libya, Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio has told top Government of National Unity officials during meetings in Tripoli, Benghazi and Tobruk.

“Italy is at your side, we will continue to support you,” Di Maio told Libyan Prime Minister Abdel Hamid Dbeibah during his fifth visit to Tripoli since the beginning of the year.

Di Maio also met President of the Presidential Council Mohamed Yunus Al-Menfi, his deputies Abdullah Al-Lafi and Musa Al-Kuni, President of the High Council of State Khalid Al-Mishri and Minister of Foreign Affairs Najla El-Mangush.

A spokesman in the Italian foreign ministry told Arab News that Di Maio visited Libya “to discuss key topics, such as furthering the dialogue on the UN-led stabilization and institutional transition process, which Italy supports with determination, to encourage the renewed commitment of all Libyan parties to concrete progress toward achieving several key objectives, including the holding of elections on Dec. 24, the implementation of the ceasefire, the adoption of the unified budget and national reconciliation and, last but not least, promoting the many initiatives underway for the broad-based strengthening of the bilateral partnership.”

The spokesman added that the minister’s visit was “clear confirmation of Italy’s steadfast commitment to stabilizing Libya, which has taken an important step forward with the reopening of the Sirte-Misurata coastal road announced on the eve of the visit.”

Di Maio’s visit comes just weeks after the reopening of the Italian Consulate General in Benghazi.

No details were disclosed concerning the recent intra-Libyan talks — held in Rome in the last week of July — on adopting a legal framework for the country’s next general elections, scheduled for Dec. 24 this year.

However, an Italian diplomatic source said: “The issue was certainly one of those that was covered during today’s meetings.”

The talks also focused on joint efforts to revive economic cooperation between the two countries across key sectors, including infrastructure, energy and transport.

“This was also in light of the positive results of the Business Forum hosted at the foreign ministry on May 31, in the presence of Dbeibah,” an Italian source said.

The visit also covered proposals for cooperation in the fields of migration, health and culture.

At the end of a meeting with Dbeibah, Di Maio announced an Italian donation to Libya of 240,000 doses of the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine.

The delivery will “help the strategy set by the Libyan government to fight the pandemic, which is hitting hard here as well,” the minister said.

Since the pandemic began, Libya has recorded 256,328 coronavirus cases and a death toll of 3,579. The country has seen a recent increase in cases of several thousand per day, partly because of increased testing.


Wildfires blaze on in drought-hit Turkey as criticism grows

Wildfires blaze on in drought-hit Turkey as criticism grows
Updated 02 August 2021

Wildfires blaze on in drought-hit Turkey as criticism grows

Wildfires blaze on in drought-hit Turkey as criticism grows
  • Seven fires were still burning, fanned by temperatures above 40 degrees Celsius, strong winds and low humidity, Forestry Minister Bekir Pakdemirli said
  • Meteorology maps show areas affected by fires have suffered severe drought in recent months

MARMARIS, Turkey: Firefighters using planes and helicopters, and locals with buckets of water, battled wildfires raging for a sixth day near southern coastal resorts in drought-hit Turkey on Monday.
Meanwhile the government faced fresh criticism of its handling the disaster.
Seven fires were still burning, fanned by temperatures above 40 degrees Celsius (104°F), strong winds and low humidity, Forestry Minister Bekir Pakdemirli said.
Meteorology maps show areas affected by fires have suffered severe drought in recent months.
Drone footage filmed by Reuters showed grey hillsides near the resort of Marmaris where fires left smoldering buildings and blackened tree trunks.
While 16 planes and 51 helicopters tackled blazes across a swathe of southwest Turkey, villagers carrying water containers up a hill to fight a fire near Marmaris said the government was not doing enough to help them.
“We are here as the entire village, from the locals to others. We didn’t run or anything, so the government must see this and also not run away. It must send some of its planes here,” a woman called Gulhan told Reuters.
Engin Ozkoc, a senior figure in the main opposition CHP, called on Pakdemirli to resign for failing to adequately prepare.
“You don’t deserve that ministry. You didn’t foresee this and buy firefighting planes,” he said, criticizing the amount of aerial resources available.
The European Union said it had helped mobilize three fire-fighting planes on Sunday. One from Croatia and two from Spain joined teams from Russia, Iran, Ukraine and Azerbaijan.
President Tayyip Erdogan’s communications director, Fahrettin Altun, rejected criticism of the government’s handling of the fires and condemned a social media campaign calling for foreign help.
“Our Turkey is strong. Our state is standing tall,” Altun said on Twitter, describing most information about the fires on social media as “fake news.” “All our losses will be compensated for.”
Eight people have been killed in the wildfires, but there were no reports of further casualties on Monday.
Since Wednesday, thousands of people have been evacuated from their homes and some tourists have left their hotels, although Tourism Minister Mehmet Ersoy said holidaymakers had returned within hours.
The wildfires are another blow to Turkey’s tourism industry following the COVID-19 pandemic.
Bulent Bulbuloglu, head of the South Aegean Hoteliers Association, said 10 percent of reservations had been canceled in Bodrum and Marmaris. Others had cut their visits short.


Lebanese army detains man after deadly funeral attack

Lebanese army detains man after deadly funeral attack
Updated 02 August 2021

Lebanese army detains man after deadly funeral attack

Lebanese army detains man after deadly funeral attack
  • Shooting in Khaldeh, where tensions between Shi'ite and Sunni Muslims have long simmered, prompted leaders to warn against an escalation
  • Attack targeted the funeral of Hezbollah member Ali Shibli who was shot dead on Saturday during a wedding

BEIRUT: The Lebanese army said on Monday it had detained a man wanted over an attack on Shiite Muslim mourners at a funeral where three people were killed, after the powerful Shiite group Hezbollah demanded the perpetrators be detained.
The shooting in Khaldeh, a town south of Beirut where tensions between Shiite and Sunni Muslims have long simmered, has prompted leaders to warn against an escalation as Lebanon grapples with political and financial crises.
The attack targeted the funeral of Hezbollah member Ali Shibli who was shot dead on Saturday during a wedding.
Sunni Arab tribes claimed responsibility for that shooting, saying they had taken revenge for the killing of one of their members last year in Khaldeh.
Army intelligence stormed the homes of a number of wanted people and detained a man who was involved in the funeral attack, the army said.
Hezbollah, an armed group backed by Iran, has said it is seeking to maintain calm but said the attackers must be handed over. The group has called it a planned ambush.
“You don’t want strife, then come and surrender those killers to the state,” Hassan Fadlallah, a Hezbollah MP, said in an interview with Al-Jadeed TV late on Sunday.
People were “boiling” and the group could not control them all, he said.
Shibli’s coffin was draped in a Hezbollah flag at his funeral in the town of Kunin in southern Lebanon.
Clerics prayed over the casket and Hezbollah fighters wearing camouflage and red berets were in attendance, footage broadcast by Hezbollah’s Al-Manar TV showed.
“What happened in Khaldeh confirms the blatant absence of the logic of the state and that the language of uncontrolled and illegitimate arms is the one prevailing,” Fouad Makhzoumi, an independent Sunni MP, wrote on Twitter.
“We are afraid of the country being dragged to strife.”
Lebanon’s financial and economic meltdown marks the biggest crisis since the 1975-90 civil war.
“Strife awakens on the eve of Aug. 4,” declared the front page headline of an-Nahar newspaper, referring to the first anniversary of the Beirut port explosion that devastated swathes of the capital and killed more than 200 people.