- By Robbie GramerRobbie Gramer is a staff writer at Foreign Policy. He writes for The Cable, FP’s real-time take on all things, well, foreign policy. Before he joined FP in 2016, he used to think in a tank, managing the NATO portfolio at the Atlantic Council for three years. He’s a graduate of American University’s School of International Service, where he studied international relations and European affairs. He has lived in both Washington and Brussels, though he grew up in Idaho and Oregon, so he’s a West Coaster at heart. When he’s not busy reporting, he’s probably busy starting three new books before he has finished the last one or planning a trip to a national park he hasn’t visited yet.
Wikileaks released over 57,000 emails of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s son-in-law, Berat Albayrak, who just happens to be Turkey’s minister of energy and natural resources. The emails showcase Albayrak’s strong influence in Turkey’s halls of power and reveal the inner workings of an increasingly oppressive government that many Western leaders struggle to understand.
The leak, sourced to a communist hacktivist group known as Redhack that has targeted the Turkish government in the past, span 16 years worth of what appears to be Albayrak’s personal emails from 2000 to 2016. Neither Albayrak nor the Turkish government has yet confirmed the authenticity of the leaks. But if the leaks are legitimate, Albayrak has a major PR headache on his hands.
Perhaps the most damning allegation is that Albayrak may have had indirect ties to ISIS’s oil trade — a trade that bankrolls the terrorist group’s operations — through a company called Powertrans.
In November 2011, the Turkish government banned road and railway transportation of oil in or out of the country, but made an exception for Powertrans. The energy company was given a monopoly over oil transportation from land-locked Iraqi Kurdistan to Turkey. Turkish media outlets reported in 2014 and 2015 that Powertrans mixed ISIS-produced oil into their shipments to Turkey, though the reports still lack hard evidence, according to the Independent.
In one leaked email, Albayrak denies any affiliation with Powertrans, writing to his lawyer, “I never had ties with this company!” But the Wikileaks dump revealed 32 exchanges with the keyword ‘Powertrans,’ including email exchanges where Albayrak directed or gave input to the company on salaries and personnel decisions.
In December 2015, Turkish opposition politician Eren Erdem accused Erdogan’s family of having ties to ISIS oil smuggling operations, saying “there is a very high probability” that Albayrak was linked to the terrorist’s oil operations. Erdem was put on trial for treason for these remarks.
At the same time period, and in the middle of a diplomatic spat between the two countries after Turkey shot down a Russian jet on the Syrian border in November of 2015, Russia threw around similar accusations. Russian Deputy Defense Minister Antonov gave a speech accusing President Erdogan and his family of being “involved in the illegal business.” Energy experts didn’t give much credence to the Russian claims.
And the fight didn’t last long; Putin and Erdogan have since warmed up to each other, even unfreezing a joint gas pipeline deal that they temporarily suspended after their diplomatic spat.
The latest batch of leaked emails in Turkey also reveal the government’s internal efforts to crackdown on free press and social media. In its statement on the release of Albayrak’s emails, Wikileaks wrote, “A number of emails show that since the 2013 Gezi Park protests the [ruling] AKP has invested in controlling social media, including hiring people to work on Twitter to influence messaging on the platform, despite blocking normal internet access to it for those within Turkey.”
Amid a surge of anti-government protests in 2013, the Turkish government formed a 6,000 person-strong social media team to promote the ruling party’s line and push back on criticisms of Erdogan’s government.
After the failed coup attempt in July, Erdogan jailed or fired tens of thousands of military personnel and civil servants and cracked down on the country’s already limited free press. In the announcement on the latest email dump, WikiLeaks’ founder Julian Assange said, “The government’s counter-coup efforts have gone well beyond their stated purpose of protecting the State from a second Gulenist coup attempt and are now primarily used to steal assets and eliminate critics.”
Turkey ranks 151st out of 180 countries on the Reporters Without Borders 2016 World Press Freedom Index, behind countries like Tajikistan, Russia, Pakistan, and Zimbabwe. Turkey has also outpaced China as the world leader in jailed journalists, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. Last month alone, Turkey jailed 120 journalists.
This isn’t the first time Wikileaks targeted Turkey. In August, it published the AKP party’s email database. The government responded by blocking access to the Wikileaks website, which remains difficult to access inside Turkey.
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