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Number of Turkish citizenships acquired on ‘exceptional merit’ skyrocketed under Soylu

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The number of Turkish citizenships granted for reasons of “exceptional merit” during the term of former interior minister Süleyman Soylu was 10 times higher than the number of such citizenships bestowed in the 84 years before he took office, the T24 news website reported.

This type of naturalization is accomplished through the authority granted by law to the interior minister, without meeting the basic requirements for obtaining citizenship through legal paths, such as ownership of property, bank deposits, marriage and the like. Although the final approval rests with the president, all procedures are under the purview of the interior minister.

T24 journalist Tolga Şardan talked about the issue in an article on Friday.

“To avoid causing a controversy, I won’t disclose the numbers; the Ministry of Interior should announce them if possible. … There must be significant meaning behind the tenfold increase in the number granted during Soylu’s seven-year term in office compared to the number granted in the past 84 years,” Şardan said.

The journalist said while the high figure could be attributed to the significant influx of Syrians and migrants from other countries to Turkey in the past seven years, “the emerging picture in recent operations inevitably raises various questions in people’s minds.”

He was referring to operations carried out after Soylu was replaced by current Interior Minister Ali Yerlikaya in June that saw a number of international criminals captured in Turkey, with some of them revealed to have obtained Turkish citizenship or applied for it.

On Nov. 2, 37 people with alleged links to the “Comanchero Motorcycle Club,” an outlaw motorcycle gang based in Australia and Southeast Asia, including its alleged leader Hakan Ayık, were detained in an operation in İstanbul.

A Turkish court ruled to arrest Ayık and 17 others on Nov. 6 on charges of “forming an organization for criminal activities, becoming a member of such an organization, international drug trafficking and criminal asset laundering.”

Local media revealed that Maxmillian Rivkin, a Swedish national working alongside Ayık, obtained Turkish citizenship and acquired a gun license while being sought on an INTERPOL Red Notice.

According to Turkish media reports, Rivkin first entered Turkey with a Bulgarian passport acquired through illegal means from Bulgaria. As a Bulgarian citizen, he purchased Ayık’s house for $250,000, subsequently obtaining Turkish citizenship. He also became a partner in a jewelry store in İstanbul. Taking advantage of the firearm license granted to jewelers, he acquired a “carry permit” through share ownership.

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.

According to Şardan, Mark Douglas Buddle, former leader of the Comanchero club, also applied to the Ministry of Interior intending to obtain Turkish citizenship.

Birgün daily journalist Timur Soykan’s report also revealed last week that Croatian drug lord Nenad Petrak, one of Europe’s notorious drug lords who was wanted on an INTERPOL Red Notice by Croatian authorities and was captured in an operation in İstanbul’s Üsküdar district on Nov. 18, acquired Turkish citizenship during Soylu’s tenure in 2022.

Soykan said Petrak was one of many international criminals who obtained citizenship during Soylu’s time in office. 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.

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