Pandora Papers: ICIJ names 131 people from Turkey in new document release

The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists has released another part of the Pandora Papers detailing the offshore finances of the world’s ultra-wealthy. The newly released trove includes 131 names of people from Turkey.

Mehmet Cengiz, the chair of Cengiz Holding and close ally of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, receives an award from the president in this file photo.

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A newly released portion of the Pandora Papers documenting the offshore accounts and finances of the world’s ultra-wealthy includes the names of 131 people from Turkey, primarily prominent members of the Turkish business world. 

The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) has been working collaboratively to analyze documents from 14 law firms to uncover how the very rich hide and move their money.

The last batch of documents, released in October, detailed how Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's close ally Mehmet Cengiz evaded taxes through the BVIs and the UK. This batch, reports Deutsche Welle Turkish, goes further, revealing the hidden finances of prominent Turks including Ayşe Ilıcak, founder of Ronesans holding, Erol Yılmaz Akçal, former Minister of Tourism, and several members of the Borusan holding executive board. 

The Pandora Papers research has been compiled by the ICIJ, comprised of over 600 journalists from 117 countries. The research is based on over 12 million documents leaked from 14 companies operating in 31 countries around the world, many of them tax havens. The most recent release is based on documents from Panamanian Alemán, Cordero, Galindo & Lee (Alcogal) and British Virgin Islands (BVI)-based  Fidelity Corporate Services.

The list includes names linked to previous money laundering and fraud. Jan Nahum and his wife Neşe Nahum, prominent businesspeople and industrialists, transferred their shares in the consulting firm “Hexagon consulting” to shady business tycoon Sezgin Baran Korkmaz in 2019, and their shares in Kıraça holding to him in 2020. Korkmaz was later detained in Austria on charges of money transfer fraud and money laundering. As it turns out, the Nahums own a company called Valmoza Ltd, founded in March 2007 in the BVIs through the Alcohol firm. They used that to hide significant portions of their fortune to evade taxes.

Also included in the documents are individuals linked to politics. Erol Yılmaz Akçal, former Minister of Tourism, allegedly received services from the firms. Burak Öymen, the son of former diplomat Onur Öymen, was also included in the documents released by the consortium. 

Notably, the newly released documents included further information about those linked to the government by tender, like Mehmet Cengiz’s company, Cengiz Holding. Cengiz and many other Justice and Development Party (AKP)-linked businesspeople have received billions in tenders from the government, making them some of the richest people in the country and the world.

These new documents show that many of these people transfer their income earned from these government projects to tax havens. According to the analysis by DW Turkish, Cengiz was again named in these documents, as was Ayşe Ilıcak, the Founder of Rönesans Holding, Ahmet Çalık, the Chairman of Çalık Holding, and Hazan Revna Demirören, the wife of Yıldırım Demirören and manager of the holding company. Fikret Tayfun Demirören, Yıldırım Demirören’s brother and member of the company’s board of directors, was also named in the documents.

Others of Turkey’s extremely wealthy, including the Kıraç family, some of the richest people in the world, and Ali Ahmet Kocabıyık, the Chairman of Borusan holding, also used these tax havens.

These names join those of infamously wealthy and powerful people from around the world. The leaders of Azerbaijan, Ukraine, the Czech Republic, Lebanon, Kenya, and Ecuador were all named in the documents, as was former UK Prime minister Tony Blair. Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the former French Minister of Finance and the Director of the International Monetary Fund, was also named. 

The ICIJ in releasing these documents aims to “shed light on the damage caused by the system,” said ICIJ director Gerard Ryle.

“Corruption is caused by secrecy,” he said. “Our research shows that tax havens can provide protection for people and companies that have something to hide. This system exists to hide taxable wealth from authorities or to prevent scrutiny of dirty money.”

Within moments of the first Pandora Papers being published in October, authorities around the world pledged to investigate offshore holdings. Turkey has not pledged to do so. The extent to which governments and leaders are ensnared in these documents, however, reveals how deep financial corruption goes. 

“These leaks show us once again that financial secrecy is at the heart of the global economy and runs like poison through the veins of our political systems,” Alex Cobham, CEO of Tax Justice Network, told ICIJ.

The next document release by the Consortium will be in 2022. So far, the documents released represent only 4% of the documents the group has. In total, the ICIJ has now released in five different links information on more than 800,000 offshore entities operating in 200 countries and regions. 

(English version by Erin O'Brien)