Author: Aidan Usubova
Turkish businessmen, facing criminal proceedings in Turkey with some of them even sentenced to life imprisonment, live freely in Batumi and do business.
Our law enforcement agencies do not detain them. They also do not answer the question of why this problem is left unaddressed.
Turkish media often writes about the escape of businessmen and other criminals to Georgia. For example, we can name a businessman Galip Öztürk and his partners Derkan Başer and Serkan Kurtuluş.
Businessmen supporting the Turkish spiritual leader, Fethullah Gülen, are also coming to Georgia. They are forced to leave Turkish territory because the local government is against them. However, they are detained in Georgia at the request of Turkey and appropriate extradition procedures are carried out.
According to Alexander Kvakhadze, a Turkologist, a researcher at the Rondel Foundation, the Turkish government allows people involved in illegal business to go to those regions where they have some interest. Then they will invest there and “pay off” their guilt by fulfilling the orders given by the Turkish government. After a certain period, the businessman is either granted amnesty or returns to Turkey with a different status under mitigating circumstances.
“It is a business that has relations with the mafia, some illegal individuals, as well as gambling businesses there. Here, businessmen with such dubious reputations are allowed to do business. They work for the interests of Turkey. “These businessmen are creating a credible network of legal businesses in the host country.”
Galip Öztürk is a famous Turkish businessman. He founded one of the largest transport companies in the world “Metro” in 1977. Metro Holding has been operating in Georgia since February 2012 as a joint-stock company “Metro Atlas Georgia”.
Turkish media have been writing about the lawsuits against Öztürk for years. In November 2018, Turkish media reported that the 19th High Criminal Court in Istanbul had sentenced Öztürk to life in prison for inciting murder, after which Ozturk ran to Batumi.
“iFact” tried to contact Galip Öztürk many times but in vain. He did not want to talk to us.
Galip Öztürk also received Georgian citizenship in 2015, founded several companies here and bought lands. He founded Metro Holding, being one of the largest groups operating in Georgia. It includes companies operating in the fields of transport, tourism, construction, and other fields. The main region of the company activities is Adjara and one of the largest assets is the hotel “Euphoria” located in Batumi.
“Metro Holding” is mainly known for its transport activities, as it provides intercity bus services. During 2018, the group’s total revenue was 81 million GELs. Galip Öztürk has invested $ 500 million in Georgia.
Öztürk opened a Turkish school in Batumi, near New Boulevard, in 2016 without having a building permit or an educational authorization. In 2016, the Minister of Education and Culture of Adjara, Gia Tavamaishvili, told “Batumelebi” that he was not even informed about the opening of the school.
In February 2020, the Minister of Finances Dimitri Kumsishvili and Galip Öztürk bought shares in the international insurance company Kamara. After that, the company launched changes and the name was also changed. 50 percent of the company’s shares belong to Dimitri Kumsishvili’s company, New Investment Opportunities Ltd, and 50 percent to Galip Öztürk ‘s company, JSC Metro Avrasia Georgia.
Although Galip Öztürk was on trial in Turkey and eventually sentenced to life imprisonment, neither he nor his business has been under any thread in Georgia. He freely hosts businessmen and politicians from Turkey in Batumi.
In June 2019, the Turkish newspaper Cumhuriyet reported that the former basketball player, Hidayet Türkoğlu, one of the top advisers to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and the mayor of Ayvacik Municipality in the Turkish province of Samsun had visited Galip Öztürk in Batumi.
Another Turkish citizen convicted in his homeland is Derkan Başer. On January 26, 2021, he appeared at the restaurant “Grill 90’s”, Batumi together with Galip Öztürk.
According to Turkish media, Derkan Başer is the right-hand of Veysel Şahin, the owner of a € 5 billion worth casino chain. In Turkey, casinos were shut down in 1996, and gambling was banned. Şahin and his entourage were arrested in 2017 for illegal activities.
On April 13, 2018, at the request of the lawyers of Şahin and 3 members of his gang, they were released by the 10th Criminal Court of Bakirkoy, Republic of Turkey. Bakirkoy’s chief prosecutor’s office appealed the release order the same day, and this time, the court decided to detain them. Başer and two other teammates managed to hide. Turkish police failed to arrest them.
On January 27, 2021, Turkish media, including “Ahaber”, reported that Derkan Başer, being wanted all over the world, three days ago was arrested in Georgia, but was soon released. After that, Derkan Başer appeared with Galif Öztürk.
Turkish media also covers that Derkan Başer is the partner of Galip Öztürk in Batumi. “Derkan Başer leads his extremely luxurious life in Batumi, drives a Bentley, and owns a restaurant. “His partner Galip Öztürk is a frequent guest of this restaurant and he also hosts Turkish guests there,” superhaber.tv reports.
According to the Public Registry, JSC Metro Atlas Georgia owns 41 sq.m. in the building where the restaurant “Grill 90’s” is located. The restaurant was opened on October 12, 2019.
Although Başer is wanted in Turkey, according to the Registry, his name is associated with one company (LLC) and two joint stock companies (JSC) in Georgia.
Başer registered the first company Orion Ltd. in November 2019, and JSC Lyon Real Estate in July 2020, in Batumi. Lion Real Estate uses the real estate of Metro Atlas Georgia, a company owned by Galip Öztürk, as its legal address. As it is clear from the company’s charter, the joint stock company is engaged in buying and selling real estate.
In January 2021, Derkan Başer bought JSC “Intourist Ixo Casino Batumi” free of charge from Raul Kakhadze, a citizen of Georgia. According to the Public Registry, the subject of the company’s activities is casino management.
In 2019, Derkan Başer bought two apartments in Batumi and Rustavi.
“If he had been a supporter of Gulen, starting with the Turkish ambassador and ending with the foreign affairs, they would have put enormous pressure on the Georgian authorities to extradite this man to Turkey on the very second day. Nothing like that happened. This person [Derkan Başer] usually works very quietly and leads his business in Georgia. We know that casinos and gambling businesses are banned in Turkey. If there operates anything, it is illegal and mostly in the hands of the Mafia. Consequently, this person will also have connections with mafia groupings, which means that he has a strong back of the dark side of Turkey, ” explained Alexander Kvakhadze, a researcher at the Rondel Foundation.
In 2018, the Georgian media covered the arrest of another Turkish citizen – Serkan Kurtuluş, in Batumi. He is a well-known and active member of the Turkish far-right nationalist organization “Gray Wolves”. The Gray Wolves are even considered a terrorist organization in several countries.
Turkish prosecutors consider Kurtuluş a “leader of an armed criminal group” in Izmir. He was wanted for 25 different crimes. He was also involved in kidnapping, blackmailing, intimidation, and extortion affairs. Kurtuluş is also accused of killing a businessman in Izmir in December 2017.
He was also the right hand of Çelik, one of the commanders of the Tenth Brigade in the Syrian Turkmen Brigades. The November 2015 assassination of a Russian military pilot, Oleg Peshkov is also associated with their name, the latter case strained Russian-Turkish relations.
In 2018, Serkan Kurtuluş was sentenced to 3 months of pre-extradition imprisonment by a Batumi court. However, despite a request for his extradition by the Turkish Republic, he was released 9 months later as Turkish media writes.
Metro Sky Tower Ltd. was established in December 2016 in Georgia with the participation of Serkan Kurtuluş. The Kurtuluş owned 25 percent of the shares of the company until May 2017. Today the company is owned only by Abraham Schagan.
In 2016, when Metro Sky Tower was being established, its owners used the property owned by Metro Atlas Georgia, a company founded by Galip Öztürk, as a legal address. This is confirmed by the letter of consent of the director of “Metro Atlas Georgia”. According to the charter of “Metro Sky Tower”, the company is engaged in various activities.
As for July 2017, the name Kurtuluş appears in the documents of 2 more companies in the public registry database – Maya Ltd and Dessing Store Ltd. Serkan Kurtuluş still owns 75 percent of the shares of Maya Ltd. and this company is also registered at the address of the real estate owned by Galip Öztürk. Serkan Kurtuluş owned 50 percent of the shares of “Dessing Store” Ltd until April 2019. The subject of the company’s activity is construction and hotel services.
Before Serkan Kurtuluş was arrested in Georgia on June 27, 2018, on May 18 he bought two apartments in Batumi.
Despite the request of the Turkish side, Kurtuluş was released in March 2019, and according to his lawyer, Otar Chanturidze, Kurtuluş later left the territory of Georgia illegally. According to Turkish media, Serkan Kurtuluş was arrested in Argentina in June 2020 and is currently in prison in Buenos Aires.
Alexander Kvakhadze speaks about the dangers of such attitude of the Georgian law enforcement authorities: “The biggest risk is that at some point local (Georgian) and imported, in this case, criminal elements might team up. “Crime can become a transnational syndicate from the point of Batumi, and followed by the development of new lines of trafficking and drug trafficking.”
According to a Rondel Foundation researcher, creating greenhouse conditions for individuals with uncertain and criminal backgrounds is dangerous. Regardless of such partnership and strategic relations with Turkey, the Georgian government should be more uncompromising about such businessmen.