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Croatian drug lord granted Turkish citizenship during ex-minister’s term

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Croatian drug lord Nenad Petrak acquired Turkish citizenship in 2022, while the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) MP Süleyman Soylu was interior minister, the Birgün daily reported.

Interior Minister Ali Yerlikaya announced on X, formerly known as Twitter, on Nov. 18 that Petrak, one of Europe’s notorious drug lords who was wanted on an INTERPOL Red Notice by Croatian authorities, was captured in an operation in İstanbul’s Üsküdar district.

According to Birgün journalist Timur Soykan’s report, Petrak was one of many international criminals who obtained citizenship during Soylu’s tenure. After buying a house in İstanbul’s Yenibosna neighborhood for $250,000, he became a Turkish citizen in December 2022 and took the name Nenat Çelik.

To obtain Turkish citizenship, it is a requirement for the National Intelligence Organization (MİT), the intelligence department of the General Directorate of Security and the intelligence unit of the Directorate of Migration Management to conduct an investigation. There is also a condition to communicate with the intelligence unit of the applicant’s country of citizenship.

The fact that Petrak had become a Turkish citizen was concealed when he was captured on Nov. 18.

Soylu on Friday shared several journalists’ allegations about drug traffickers obtaining Turkish citizenship during his time in office on his X account, describing the allegations against him as “defamation, lies and baseless accusations.”

He said it is legally and practically impossible for someone sought under an INTERPOL Red Notice to obtain citizenship or even a residence permit.

Soykan also listed Ahmad Nazari Shirehjini, an Iranian national who is alleged to be part of an organized crime syndicate involved in various schemes, from fraud to money laundering; Jovan Vukotic, the alleged head of the notorious Skaljari drug gang who was killed in Turkey last year; Montenegrin mob boss Zeljko Bojanic; alleged drug trafficker Sani Al Murdaa, a Bosnian national, and his Albanian partner, Flamur Sinanaj; Dutch drug lord Jos Leijdekkers and Rawa Majid, who is suspected of being the main leader of the Swedish criminal organization Foxtrot, as being among people to whom Turkey granted citizenship during Soylu’s time in office.

VICE World News reported in April, citing European law enforcement officials, that Europe’s most-wanted drug traffickers are increasingly evading capture by becoming Turkish citizens.

European law enforcement officials, speaking to VICE, have grown concerned that criminals linked to large-scale drug trafficking are exploiting Turkey’s policy of issuing citizenship to investors while also taking advantage of the fact the country refuses to extradite its new citizens.

In 2018 Turkey lowered the financial and investment criteria for foreigners to become Turkish citizens in a bid to boost investment in the economy. The regulations stipulated that foreigners can become citizens if they own property worth $250,000 for three years, down from a previous value of $1 million. The minimum investment necessary to obtain Turkish citizenship was increased to $400,000 in 2022.

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