Businessman accused by Turkish mobster faces U.S. charges of laundering drug money

A prominent Turkish businessman accused by mafia boss Sedat Peker of wrongdoing is facing criminal charges in the United States for laundering money from the sale of illegal drugs.

Halil Falyalı is in the luxury hotel business in the breakaway Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), and was accused of involvement in international drug trafficking in the tell-all video series released by Turkish mafia leader Sedat Peker throughout the month of May.

In a video released on Sunday, Peker accused Falyalı of working with Erkam Yıldırım, son of Turkey’s former prime minister Binali Yıldırım, in transporting cocaine from Venezuela to Turkey via Panama.

Yıldırım would stay with Falyalı when he visited the TRNC, but his father was probably unaware of his illicit dealings, Peker said. “I don’t believe Mr Binali was involved in such an organisation,” he said.

According to Peker, Falyalı and Yıldırım’s trafficking operation received support from Mehmet Ağar, a former interior minister and police chief whose son is currently a member of the Turkish parliament. All of the accused have denied Peker’s allegations, and Yıldırım has since pressed charges against Peker to clear his name, according to a report on the Turkish T24 news website. Falyalı says he never met with Erkam Yıldırım.

However, court documents of an ongoing criminal case in the United States appear to provide at least partial support to Peker’s claims about Falyalı.

In March 2016, following five years of investigation by the U.S Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), Falyalı and his brother Hüsnü, as well as a co-conspirator named Özgür Demir, were indicted by federal prosecutors for laundering funds obtained from an international drug trafficking scheme.

In an affidavit submitted to support an indictment against the trio, one DEA agent involved in the investigation said informants explained that the Falyalı family was involved in running “a large-scale drug and weapons trafficking organisation” out of the TRNC. The agent also wrote that the brothers were “known to be associated with the Turkish mafia” and that their sources’ information lined up with the DEA’s own past investigations of the brothers.

Starting in May 2011, a DEA source met with the Falyalı brothers in the TRNC when Halil bragged about purchasing a ‘custom’ boat from the United States for transporting up to 500 kg of drugs between ports in Famagusta, Cyprus and Mersin, Turkey.

A year later, the same source said he negotiated the delivery of $50,000 to Falyalı in London, claiming that it was from cocaine sales in the United States. Falyalı directed the source to meet with Demir, who was in Britain at the time and could help launder the money in Amman, Jordan.

Between May 23 and June 12, 2012, the DEA said it recorded numerous calls between their source and Falyalı where he explained multiple schemes to move the laundered funds to Amman and the 10 percent cut he would receive from it.

A second scheme would take place shortly after to launder $100,000 using a DEA-owned bank account in Sofia, Bulgaria and an account owned by Falyalı in the TRNC. As part of this transaction, Falyalı requested 10,000 euros ($12,250) to bribe his bank manager to go through with the transfer on top of a 7 percent commission.

In September 2012, an undercover DEA agent and their source met with the Falyalı brothers in Cyprus where he was said to be focused on increasing the supply of cocaine to meet a growing demand in Britain. After moving $150,000 between the same accounts used in the second transaction, Falyalı requested a higher commission to pay off a year-end tax for a business he owned in the TRNC called Tener İşletmecilik LTD to mask it as a legitimate business cost.

After gathering what evidence was needed of Falyalı’s activities, the U.S. government issued an arrest warrant for Halil and Hüsnü Falyalı and Özgür Demir in July 2015. In March 2016, a judge allowed the case to be unsealed after prosecutors said one of the defendants had been arrested, another was aware of the charges filed, and the third remained a fugitive.

Prosecutors did not specify in their request to unseal the case which of the defendants was apprehended or on the run. No record could be found for either Falyalı or Demir in the U.S. Bureau of Prisons’ inmate database.

Falyalı and his associates have also been accused of crimes in Britain. In 2004, prosecutors in London had Halil Falyalı detained after he was accused of threatening to kill a local Turkish business owner, according to a report in the Evening Standard newspaper. Falyalı pleaded not guilty and was acquitted by a judge after the alleged victim withdrew his complaint, causing the collapse of the prosecution’s case. At the time, the Falyalı brothers were involved in negotiations to buy the Fulham Football Club, but the deal never materialised.

However, Demir was indicted by British authorities for trafficking 18 kg of heroin and remains on the National Crime Agency’s most wanted list.

After Peker made his accusation on Sunday, Halil Falyalı denied any involvement with drug trafficking or knowing Erkan Yildirim. In an interview with Turkish journalist Cüneyt Özdemir, Falyalı acknowledged reports of run-ins with the DEA, but said he only knew of it from media coverage.

“There is talk of a DEA report. It is true, we have seen it from the press. There is talk of an investigation over the laundering of $30,000. Would such a man be investigated for that amount?” said Falyalı.

Beyond the ownership of the Les Ambassadeurs Hotel, the Falyalı family has business interests in the gambling industry in the TRNC. Gambling is an important revenue generator for the enclave. The sector was dogged by fears of penetration by Turkish organised crime for decades, the Wall Street Journal reported in 1998.

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Ahval.