What’s the perfect gift for a world leader who has everything? How about secretly buying a $25 million oil tanker for his family? That’s what Azeri billionaire Mübariz Mansimov did for Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the increasingly authoritarian Turkish president, back in 2008. The discovery, published Friday by the Black Sea, El Mundo and other outlets, is the result of a monthslong project by the European Investigative Collaboration network.

Mansimov became a Turkish citizen two years earlier and adopted a Turkish name, Mübariz Gurbanoglu, allegedly at Erdogan’s suggestion. After the deal was struck, his business dealings in Turkey took off, including lucrative contracts with state firms.

Mansimov is also “a friend” of Donald Trump and attended his presidential inauguration. “When the 39 floors of residential and office block Trump Towers opened in Istanbul in 2009, Mansimov was the first customer — buying eight apartments, including the penthouse,” according to the Black Sea.


The deal is complex but, in a nutshell, goes like this: Mansimov purchased a ship and opened a Maltese holding company for it in 2007. In October 2008, another company registered in the Isle of Man that belonged to Erdogan’s brother-in-law and his son purchased all shares for $25 million. The next day, that firm took out a $18.4 million loan arranged by Mansimov. Normal, so far. However, documents show that Mansimov pledged to pay off the entire seven-year loan plus interest in exchange for leasing rights through 2015 (the remaining $7 million of the purchase price was paid by a close personal friend of Erdogan for reasons unknown). Mansimov’s company, which controls two-thirds of Black Sea oil shipping, extended the leasing option through 2020 for $1.2 million a year. All told, the deal amounts to a $21.2 million cash transfer from Mansimov to Erdogan’s family. Despite having supposedly sold the ship to the close friend who paid $7 million in 2011, in three instances since then, Erdogan’s brother-in-law signed documents attesting to be the “sole beneficial owner” of the tanker.


Design: Corino Dragomir

The paper trail for this tangled web of transactions begins in the Malta Files, an investigation led by the EIC, based on a leaked cache of 150,000 documents from a Malta-based provider of legal, financial and corporate services, as well as a scraped version of the Malta Public Register of companies. In total, more than 50,000 companies are included. The project brought together 49 journalists from 13 media organizations in 16 countries, including The Intercept Brasil, L’Espresso, Le Soir, NRC, Der Spiegel, the Romanian Centre for Investigative Journalism / TheBlackSea.eu, Mediapart, Politiken, NewsWeek Serbia, El Mundo, Expresso, Dagens Nyheter, Malta Today, and Agência Sportlight.

Malta, a Mediterranean archipelago with less than half a million residents, boasts the lowest effective corporate tax rate in the European Union and has become a preferred destination for tax avoidance in the EU. Malta Files reporting has also exposed offshoring schemes of the Italian mafia, a Russian billionaire’s payday loan empire, Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim, soccer stars, and yacht-owning European oligarchs, among others………………..https://theintercept.com/2017/05/26/malta-files-revelations-25-million-oil-tanker-gifted-to-erdogans-family/

Family business of Turkey Prime Minister heads offshore

The family of PM Binali Yıldırım has offshores with at least 140 million dollars in assets – including cargo ships and properties in the Netherlands

by Craig Shaw and Zeynep Sentek

24 May 2017


Ramadan 2009. Turkey’s Transport and Maritime Minister, Binali Yıldırım, was invited to break fast with the top brass of his country’s shipping business at a ceremony of the Barbaros Shipowners Association in Istanbul.

After the meal, Yıldırım took to the stage. His speech adopted a serious tone.

From now on any Turkish businesses owning ships, yachts or sea vessels that flew foreign flags would be “treated with suspicion” by the government, he said.

“We gave the [vessels] three months to change flags, free of charge,” Yıldırım added, referring to the requests of his Ministry. “Now they have no excuse. If they insist on not changing to the Turkish flag, we don’t see that [they have any] good intentions.“

The idea was to create a strong, national shipping fleet brandishing the Turkish colours and paying fees and taxes to the Turkish state.

Sat a few metres from Yıldırım was his 30-year-old son, Erkam.

His son might have felt embarrassment at his father’s speech, since at that time he was the registered owner of least one general cargo ship called the ‘City’, through the family’s offshore company in the Netherland Antilles. This freighter flew not the Turkish flag, but that of the Dutch Caribbean Islands.

Since then, the family’s ownership of foreign-flagged ships has grown, leading to the conclusion that Yıldırım’s speech was nothing less than hypocrisy.

An investigation into the Yıldırım family enterprise, part of the European Investigative Collaborations’ (EIC) #MaltaFiles, reveals that the family currently sits on shipping and related assets of well over 100 million Euro.

This consists of eleven foreign-flagged ships nestled in a network of secretive companies in Malta, the Netherlands, and the Netherlands Antilles – specifically now Curaçao, with more suspected in the Marshall Islands and Panama. At least four of the ships are financed with huge loans from Swiss and Turkish banks, including one part-owned by the Turkish state.

While some of the activities, especially in tax havens, remains opaque, The Black Sea discovered that Yıldırım’s son, daughter, uncle and nephews have purchased seven properties in the Netherlands, worth over two-and-a-half million dollars – all of which were paid for in cash.

The investigation also uncovered how the Yıldırıms used one of these Dutch companies to anonymously donate 600,000 Euro (1.75 million Turkish Lira) to the municipality of Pendik, near Istanbul, for a lavish new mosque.

EIC’s investigation traces how the family’s offshore shipping operation has grown in line with Binali Yıldırım’s towering career to become the second most powerful man in Turkey.

Family Business at the Heart of Government

Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım is no stranger to mixing his family’s fortunes with his role as a public servant. His career in shipping manager began in 1994 when he managed the Istanbul Fast Ferries Company (IDO), owned by the city. However the Istanbul bosses fired him in 2000 over revelations he awarded a contract to manage the ferries’ canteens to his uncle, Yılmaz Erence.

The scandal did little to harm Yıldırım’s career. Instead, he entered politics. Since 2001, he has been a key member of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP). When this fledgling movement won the 2002 Turkish elections, Yıldırım landed the job of Minister of Transport in the new government’s first ever cabinet. He held this job, with some interruptions, for almost 12 years.

Throughout his tenure, there has been speculation in the Turkish press and among lawmakers about his family’s business. Several times, Yıldırım refused to answer questions in parliament from opposition MPs demanding that he reveal details of how they make their money in shipping.

His only public statement is to a journalist from CNN Türk in March 2013, when he coyly explained that that he passed his shipping business to his children when he became a MP in 2002. But he would not go into detail.

PM Yildirim was fired in 2000 as an Istanbul ferry company manager for nepotism

How does a politician’s family build an asset portfolio of 140 million Euro in just over ten years?

The first traces of the Yıldırıms’ offshore adventures appear in Malta in 1998, via a company that alludes to the Turkish provenance of its shareholders – Tulip Maritime Limited.

This was headed by the Prime Minister’s Uncle Yılmaz and contacts from Turkey’s political and business world. These included Salih Zeki Çakır, a known ship-owner who employed Yıldırım briefly before his career in Government, and Ahmet Ergün, President Erdogan’s advisor from his days as Istanbul Mayor, as well as a former MP and high court judge, Abbas Gökçe.

Their first vessel was the Silver Fish, a cheap twenty-year-old cargo ship, which was soon broken apart.

Over the course of the 2000s, the team built up other companies and bought other ships. These are now mostly broken up or sold. By 2009, when Yıldırım delivered his impassioned speech promoting Turkish nationalism at the Ship Owners Association, the 4,000-tonne ‘City’ appears to be the only foreign asset. This was sold by Erkam two months later to their Panama company, North Bulkers S.A., before being broken up in 2011.

Since then the family’s shipping fortunes have acquired a formidable buying power. Six of the eleven ships identified by The Black Sea and EIC – worth between 1.9 million and 33 million Euro – appear to have been bought without any bank loans. If so, this suggests an enormous cache of funds exists in the Dutch operation, despite on paper being a money-losing business.

The eleven ships are owned by offshore companies in the Netherlands and Malta, countries with attractive tax benefits for the maritime industry.

In February this year, Binali Yıldırım – as Prime Minister – visited Malta to sign a refugee agreement with the local government.

If he had been so inclined, he might have taken the short journey to visit the offices of Mifsud and Sons Ltd in the capital, Valletta, and the nearby town of St Julian’s. This firm is owned by its namesake, Simon Mifsud, and represents the Yıldırım family’s latest shipping outfits in the country, called Dertel Shipping Limited, Nova Ponza Limited, Rory Malta Limited and Nova Warrior Limited.

The Yıldırıms took over the new companies on 9 June 2016, a little over two weeks after Erdogan appointed Yıldırım as Turkey’s Prime Minister.

The director of each of these is Süleyman Vural, Yıldırım’s nephew……..


But this is minor league compared to the family’s Dutch operation – where the assets reach over 130 million dollars.

Landlords to Dutch dentist and shoemaker

Erkam Yıldırım has strong commercial ties in the Netherlands. These interests include modest properties and expensive ships.

When analysing the Yıldırım family’s offshore structure, EIC learned of a property company called Castillo Real Estate BV, based in the suburban city of Almere, across from Amsterdam on the Markermeer lake.

The Netherlands’s newest city is not the most likely place to find connections to the foreign elite. Here on Guamstraat is a dentist’s surgery – Tandartspraktijk de Compagnie. Any customer who has a wisdom tooth pulled out in this clinic is experiencing such pleasure in a building owned by the son of Turkey’s prime minister.

Turkish PM’s son gets teeth into Dutch real estate/ Dental Clinic, Almere, Holland (Credit/ Rien Zilvold, NRC)

Next door to the dentist, at Number 14, are the offices of Castillo Real Estate and Zealand Shipping – two of the family’s major companies.

In addition to the two buildings in Almere, Castillo owns four more properties in the country, a modest-sized apartment building in the centre of Schoonhoven, two houses on the Joseph Haydnlaan street in Utrecht, and a shoemaker’s shop in The Hague.

The six properties cost the family over 2.16 million Euro – and were all paid for in cash. The seventh is also in Almere and was purchased by Erkam personally for Zealand’s manager.

These are small pickings.

The real money in the operation here is on the waves: Zealand Shipping.

Set up in 2007, Zealand, housed next door to the dentist’s office, was run and owned by Erkam until June 2014, when it was bought by Holland Investments Cooperatif UA.

This change is cosmetic. Like with South Seas, company records in the Netherlands reveal Erkam as the man behind the new owner, and in charge of its 129.8 million USD assets.

Through Holland Investment Cooperatif UA, the company records show that family also owns 30 per cent of Q-Shipping BV based in Barendrecht. The partner in this venture is Abdülvahit Şimşek, a Turkish businessman who shares an office with the Yıldırıms in Istanbul.

Right now, Q-Shipping BV and its subsidiaries manage 20 ships – none of which sail under a Turkish flag.

Until last year, Zealand Shipping had ten ships flying the Dutch flag. In January 2016, a Turkish conglomerate close to the Erdogan government, Kolin Group, bought two of these vessels.

Today, Zealand Shipping and its subsidiaries still own eight vessels.

Every one of these boast names that display rampant Turkish nationalism – the Zealand Almere, MV Zealand Amsterdam and MV Zealand Rotterdam bought new in 2012 and 2013; the MV Zealand Ariane and MV Zealand Alexia, purchased second-hand throughout 2014; MV Zealand Beatrix, MV Zealand Delilah, MV Juliana bought new in 2010 and 2011.

The bill for these is not small. The Rotterdam, Amsterdam and Almere cost around 33 million Euro each to build. But Dutch records show that only the Amsterdam listed a debt, a loan of 33 million to the Kuveyt Türk Bank, a non-interest, Islamic financial institution part-owned by the Turkish government though the Directorate General of Foundations, whose director sits on the bank’s board.

Another loan taken out by Zealand is for the Juliana, a dry bulk carrier, which was financed by a 17.16 million Euros from the Yapı ve Kredi Bank in Turkey.

In total, three of the ships were constructed by Sefine, a shipbuilder close to Binali Yıldırım. Sefine was run until 2014 by Suat Hayri Aka, when he was forced by Turkish law to transfer his shares to his brother in order to to accept a government job.

What was this position? Undersecretary to the Ministry of Transport. This made him the deputy of Binali Yıldırım.