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Erdoğan family files criminal complaint against journalist for report on business with Israel

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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his family have filed a criminal complaint against an investigative journalist, accusing him of “insult” and “defamation” after the journalist reported on social media that Erdoğan’s eldest child Burak may be the owner of a shipping company that loaded cargo in Israel during the height of the Gaza conflict in October.

The İstanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office launched an investigation following receipt of the complaint, the Kronos news website reported.

Journalist Metin Cihan, known for his investigative reporting, highlighted the activities of the Halit Yıldırım cargo ship in a series of posts on X, formerly known as Twitter, on Monday.

The Halit Yıldırım departed from the Port of İskenderun, operated by the pro-Erdoğan Limak business group, on Oct. 11 and arrived at Israel’s Ashdod Port on Oct. 14. After loading its cargo, it set sail for Florida on Oct. 18

According to Cihan, who cited İstanbul Chamber of Commerce (İTO) data, the Halit Yıldırım is owned by Manta Denizcilik, a company owned by Turkish national Mert Çetinkaya, who also co-owns MB Denizcilik shipping company with Burak Erdoğan.

Cihan said his claims are not mere allegations but are based on publicly accessible and official sources. He detailed the process of verifying the ship’s identity and movements, directing interested individuals to maritime tracking websites like marinetraffic.com or vesselfinder.com. By searching for the Halit Yıldırım, one can verify its association with Manta Denizcilik, and its travel log can be traced through a subscription to these websites. Cihan emphasized the transparency and accessibility of his investigative methods.

Further establishing the ownership of Manta Denizcilik, Cihan pointed to the İTO’s database (bilgibankasi.ito.org.tr) as a resource for confirming that Çetinkaya is the registered owner of the company. He mentioned the ease of verifying this information through publicly available records, including the Trade Registry Gazette (ticaretsicil.gov.tr), which requires simple user registration. This part of Cihan’s investigation lends credence to the links between the shipping activities and the individuals in question.

In a series of follow-up tweets, Cihan underscored the connections between Manta Denizcilik and MB Denizcilik, a company co-owned by Burak Erdoğan and Çetinkaya. He pointed out that both companies share the same official address and even the same website, information verifiable through the İTO and the Trade Registry Gazette.

The journalist’s posts on X suggested a contradiction between President Erdoğan’s staunch public condemnation of Israel and the private business dealings involving Israeli ports. The cargo shipments continued during a period of heightened tension and violence in the Gaza Strip, sparking controversy and accusations of hypocrisy.

Although Burak is not the owner of the Manta Denizcilik, critics of President Erdoğan assume that is the case because the Turkish leader is accused of amassing large amounts of illegal wealth through front companies set up by his family or cronies, allegations that further became credible when a confidant detailed the corrupt practices in May.

Erdoğan’s son Burak’s shipping business has been targeted by critics since the early years of his Justice and Development Party (AKP) government.

Then-prime minister Erdoğan referred to the ships owned by his son as “shiplings” (coining the word “gemicik” with a Turkish diminutive) when responding to a question about whether it was ethical for his son to engage in such a lucrative trade in cargo while Erdoğan was ruling Turkey in an attempt to downplay his son’s business.

The complaint against Cihan did not include a denial of the ship being linked to Burak Erdoğan.

Journalist Cihan is a vocal critic of the government, and his work in Turkey has often brought him into direct conflict with AKP politicians. Cihan’s report on the suspicious death of 11-year-old Rabia Naz Vatan, which contradicted official accounts and implicated AKP members, attracted a great deal of attention and caused controversy. He was forced to leave Turkey due to death threats over his investigation into the death of Rabia Naz. Later, working as a journalist in exile, his investigations into alleged nepotism in the AKP government and his reports on corruption in state institutions further raised his profile as a journalist.

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