WASHINGTON: A Turkish businessman wanted on money laundering, wire fraud and obstruction charges was extradited from Austria to the US on Friday, the Justice Department said.
Sezgin Baran Korkmaz was escorted by US Marshals to Utah, where he has been indicted for allegedly laundering more than $133 million through bank accounts he controlled in Turkey and Luxembourg.
Korkmaz was arrested in Austria in June of last year and had been fighting extradition to the US, telling a Turkish reporter from jail that he would rather face justice at home, where he is also wanted for money laundering and fraud.
According to a US indictment, Korkmaz and co-conspirators were involved in a scheme to defraud the US Treasury by filing false claims for more than $1 billion in tax credits allegedly for the production and sale of biodiesel by their company, Washakie Renewable Energy LLC.
Jacob and Isaiah Kingston pleaded guilty in July 2019 to federal charges and testified in 2020 at the trial in Utah of another co-conspirator, Levon Termendzhyan, who was convicted of all charges.
Korkmaz and his co-conspirators allegedly used proceeds from the fraud to acquire luxury homes, businesses such as Biofarma, the Turkish airline Borajet, a yacht named the Queen Anne, a hotel in Turkey and a villa and apartment on the Bosporus in Istanbul, according to the US authorities.
Working with officials in Lebanon, US Marshals seized the Queen Anne in July 2021 and sold it for $10.11 million.
The Justice Department said Korkmaz faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison for each count of money laundering conspiracy, wire fraud and obstruction of an official proceeding.
The US had been insisting on his extradition from Austria because the likelihood of Ankara extraditing him should he have been sent back to Turkey was 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.
According to the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, Korkmaz played a role in Ankara’s efforts to curry favor with President Donald Trump in his first years in the White House.
The investigative group also alleged 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.