On May 14, 2015, the renowned Turkish newspaper Milliyet published a headline story revealing that much of the smuggled cigarettes in Turkey originated in Bulgaria and were manufactured by Bulgartabac. A detailed report of the Turkish Customs Ministry, together with Turkey’s Financial Crime Investigation Board (MASAK), which supplied the data, were quoted as the main sources. Another renowned Turkish newspaper – Hurriyet – published a translation of the story in English.
Cigarettes smuggled from Georgia, Northern Iraq, Bulgaria
Istanbul, Hurriet Daily News
Smuggled cigarettes arrive in Turkey from Georgia, northern Iraq and Bulgaria, while there are large sums of money being transferred from the eastern parts of Turkey to Istanbul in line with smuggling activities, according to recent data from Turkey’s financial crime investigation board (MASAK), daily Milliyet has reported.
Additionally, close ties were detected between some of the smugglers and extensions of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in Europe, according to the report.
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The inspectors from the MASAK and the Turkish Customs Ministry prepared a detailed report on
the smuggled cigarette flow into Turkey.
There has been a huge increase in the amount of smuggled cigarettes in Turkey in the last few years, so the official authorities have put this issue under closer focus. The recent official reports were prepared after months of detailed investigations.
Cigarettes smuggled to southern province
A large volume of cigarettes were smuggled from northern Iraq, Georgia and Bulgaria to the southern province of Mersin as well as several eastern, Black Sea and southeastern provinces, before they spread across to the country, mainly to Istanbul, according to the official report.
The most common brand in the smuggled cigarettes market was owned by the Bulgartabac company, which sold its cigarettes, under the brand name Prestige, to Salam Qader Faraj in northern Iraq, according to the report.
The inspectors examined the consignment bills of the cigarettes in the Mersin Port and discovered the intermediary firm had close ties with Arbil-based Eagle Group, which was owned by Nihat and Serdar Barzani.
The inspectors learned the intermediary firm also played a role in transferring money through the European extensions of the PKK to their cadres in the northern Iraq, according to the report.
The notification address on the consignment bills of the cigarettes was registered to the Kar Foreign Trade Company, which was founded by Faruk Mustafa Rasool, Ömer H. Ahmad and Hiwa M. Rauf Ali. This company was found to be in close relations with the Eagle Group.
A majority of the cigarettes, which were produced in Bulgaria, Germany, Greece and Turkey, were sold legally to several companies in northern Iraq, including Salem Qader Faraj, Tarık Abdullah Amin and Dolovan Sadeeq Farman.
These cigarettes were transferred across the border from Iraq and Iran to Turkey through the country’s eastern and southeastern provinces. The money in these smuggling activities was laundered via several exchange offices in Istanbul and the eastern province of Ağrı.
Money transfer from eastern city to Istanbul
According to the reports, two companies were established in Iraq to smuggle cigarettes, under the names of T.A.A. and D.S.F., with serious inconsistencies between the trade volume and the equity base of these companies. T.A.A. transferred higher amounts of money from Turkey than it was actually owed for the goods it had sent to the country.
There was a huge sum of money transferred from Ağrı to Istanbul, worth some 500 million Turkish Liras, which was converted into cash by the partners of the exchange office, according to the investigation.
The MASAK inspectors also followed the assets of the real and legal persons involving in the smuggling activities. At the same time, the Customs Ministry inspectors acquired crucial information and documents regarding the smugglers’ activities abroad.
According to reports sent by the inspectors to the then Specially Authorized Court of Serious Crimes in 2012, it was documented that alcoholic drinks had been smuggled via Georgia and cigarettes via Georgia, northern Iraq and Iran.
Turkish police seized 99.1 million packs of cigarettes in 2012 alone, according to the most recent statistics. This was 69.7 million packs in 2011.
According to data provided by Turkey’s Tobacco and Alcohol Market Regulatory Authority (TAPDK), the sale of smuggled cigarettes is particularly high in southeastern Turkey, the first destination of smugglers through the southern and southeastern borders.
Comment of Bivol
Bivol turned to the Customs Agency with a formal inquest about that report. Our question is whether the Bulgarian services possess the information cited in Milliyet under their partnership relations with Turkey and if so, what measures are being taken? The Customs Agency replied that it had not received such official report. We also sent formal questions to the State Agency for National Security (DANS) and are attempting to contact the Turkish authorities for more information. According to sources of Bivol, during bilateral meetings between Bulgarian and Turkish authorities, operational information has been received from the Turks on those cigarette brands and on this manufacturer. However, until now, this information has not been handled in a particularly responsible manner by the Bulgarian services.
The article in Milliyet indirectly confirms the publications of Bivol on Bulgartabac and the specific letter that was sent to the US Embassy in Sofia. Bivol was the only one to publish the scandalous correspondence which reveals the entire criminal corruption scheme around the acquisition of the assets of Bulgartabac and the illegal smuggling of cigarettes to the Middle East.
Bivol also received accurate information from a source that for several months now Bulgartabac cigarettes are being manufactured in Dubai. This means that part of the Bulgarian cigarette smuggling can come from there as well, through Iraq. We are also currently investigating this very interesting issue, both for the local and the international services combatting smuggling, trafficking and money laundering.
The publication further confirms the information in the correspondence between Tsvetan Vasilev and lawyer Alexander Angelov which describes the scheme for the privatization of Bulgartabac. According to the scheme and the explanatory letter, a person named Salam is a main partner from Iraq. Operational information of Bivol shows that this is precisely Salam Qader Faraj, quoted in the report of the Turkish services.
Bivol continues to investigate the Bulgartabac topic in a series of publications that disclose backstage arrangements, financing with dirty money, severe political corruption and cover-up by regulators and prosecutors – the essence of the so-called model # WHO.
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