Turkish businessman Sezgin Baran Korkmaz, who is being sought as part of a probe into money laundering, hosted Tommy Hicks Jr., a top fundraiser for former U.S. President Donald Trump, and former C.I.A. Director James Woolsey in September 2018 to help them secure the release of US pastor Andrew Brunson from Turkish detention, according to a report released by the investigative reporting organization OCCRP on March 24.
The backchannel mission to free Brunson was organized by Nancye Miller, a lobbyist married to Woolsey, who was in communication with the office of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, said the report.
“In mid-September 2018, Miller’s handpicked group — including Woolsey, Hicks, and [James] McCurry [a Franciscan priest] — flew to Istanbul, where Korkmaz played host. They checked into a hotel and waited for instructions,” the report said.
Brunson was released in October 2018 after spending 24 months in detention. He was charged with aiding the Gülen network, which the Turkish authorities refer to as the Fethullahist Terrorist Organization (FETÖ).
Various reports at the time said that after months of trying, the Trump administration struck a deal with Turkish officials for Brunson's release. Afterwards, Trump hosted Brunson at the White House, where he openly expressed his gratitude to Erdoğan for interfering in the case.
The OCCRP's report said that Erdoğan last year obtained a Turkish court order to have his photographs taken with Korkmaz erased from the internet and attempted to hide any evidence of a connection with the shady businessman.
The report said that Korkmaz had known Miller and Woolsey for some time. “Those connections, it turned out, included both Erdoğan’s government and transnational crime,” it said.
After staying in Istanbul for a while, the two Americans on Sept. 18, 2018 took a trip to İzmir (where the U.S. pastor was jailed) on a private jet owned by Korkmaz, the report said.
Korkmaz also requested from Brunson’s lawyer, İsmail Cem Halavurt, that the lawyer publicly identify him as playing a key assisting role in getting Brunson released on the day of the trial, according to the report.
Although the lawyer declined this offer, Korkmaz nonetheless turned up by Halavurt’s side — and in full view of the news cameras — as Brunson was released from detention, said the report.