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Exclusive: An interview with Ali Yesildag, the businessman who denounced Erdogan for being involved in a multi-billion-dollars corruption system, just before the Supreme Court of Greece rules on his extradition to Turkey.
Update: Greece’s Supreme Court expected to issue final ruling on 7 February 2024
Interview conducted By Sofia Kartali
20.01.2024, 11.00 a.m.
Sofia Kartali (S.K.): Ali, how would you describe your current situation?
Ali Yesildag (A.Y.): I will start with some background. Our family maintains close ties and has had a longstanding relationship with Tayyip Erdogan. We were born in the same neighbourhood and grew up together. We had everyday contact. In 1994, when Tayyip Erdogan was elected Mayor of Istanbul, my oldest brother, Zeki Yesildag was a member of the city council and deputy mayor. Also, in 1999, when Tayyip Erdogan had to leave office and serve a prison sentence in Pınarhısar Prison, my brother, Hasan Yesildag, deliberately committed a crime. He went to prison one day before him and then guarded him in the same cell. Moreover, due to the fact that Tayyip Erdogan suffers from a disease unknown to the public, my brother was also in charge of his medical treatment in jail. He did all of this in the name of a great friendship.
S.K.: What is the disease from which he suffers?
A.Y.: He suffers from epilepsy, which is a closely guarded secret. Sometimes he has epileptic seizures. This is the reason why he requires a companion, a family member or
a close friend, at all times.
S.K.: Following all these, what is actually going on?
A.Y.: When Erdogan became prime minister, my brothers and I established various companies, as we also did while he served as mayor, gaining huge profits. Tayyip Erdogan always was our secret partner. We ran many businesses together and we gained billions of dollars, not just some millions, but several billions of dollars. In 2014,
I wanted to leave the [family business] due to some disputes. I demanded my share of the profits. As a response, I was imprisoned for seven years without any grounds or evidence and I was accused of a crime which I had never committed. In 2020, I was released due to measures to contain the Covid-19 pandemic and also legislation providing for the prison decongestion. And I came back claiming my rights. That time they tried to silence me. They issued a court ruling against me in order to serve a four-year prison sentence for a crime I committed in 1985-86 as a minor, and for which I was then incarcerated for six years. I was 15 years old back then. I got furious and I decided to publish these videos [on YouTube] revealing corruption scandals. Following this, just 10 days after my shocking revelations they issued an Interpol arrest warrant against me and I fled to Greece to save myself.
“I have important evidence on hand and they are aware of it”
S.K.: Ali do you have any evidence on hand?
A.Y.: I have important evidence on hand and they are aware of it. That is why an investigation was launched against me for membership in a terrorist organization and more specifically regarding the movement of the US-based self-exiled Fethullah Gulen (FETÖ). This criminal file remains confidential and therefore my lawyers are unable to access it. The ultimate goal of the investigation is to add as many charges as possible in order to sentence me to life in prison.
S.K.: What do you anticipate from the Greek Supreme Court as to your extradition?
A.L: I just want for justice to be served and to examine all evidence adequately. I came to Greece because I trust Greek justice. Greece is the cradle of democracy, the place where justice and democracy were born. If they ultimately decide to extradite me, this will clearly send the message “take him back and kill him”.
S.K.: You were part of this corruption scheme up to a certain point, is that right?
A.Y.: That’s true.
“Currently nobody is able to oppose Erdogan’s corruption scheme”
S.K.: Who can currently oppose Erdogan’s corruption scheme?
A.Y.: Currently, nobody is able to resist. Only if you share the whole truth with the people and properly direct them to learn what really goes on. Only then they will decide to kick this government out. Only under this condition. Nowadays, Turkey is under an authoritarian regime, a dictatorship following Erdogan’s and his family mandates.
“Tayyip Erdogan is an associate in all megaprojects, otherwise you cannot take over any tender”
S.K.: Has always Erdogan a share in all megaprojects?
A.Y.: Exactly. Tayyip Erdogan is an associate in all megaprojects, otherwise you cannot take over any tender. All businessmen in Turkey have established partnerships with Tayyip Erdogan. It is by force that they share parts with him, otherwise nothing moves on. You have no chance.
S.K.: Where is all the money you amassed, Ali?
A.Y.: Part of it is in Switzerland, in the USA and in other companies falsely represented by other persons. The construction works on which we are currently working in Turkey cost hundreds of millions of dollars, billions of dollars. For example, we are the owners of the [construction] company Yapı Yapı, yet it is represented by another person. The “brother” Tayyip and his son Bilal are partners in that company. Imagine that just in Etiler district, an area that belongs to the Police we are currently building skyscrapers, shopping malls, etc., all these cost billions of dollars. We also worked on the demolition of the old Ataturk airport of Istanbul, where new parking buildings are now under construction.
“I fear that they will take me back to Turkey to silence me and murder me”
S.K.: Do you currently possess all these documents?
A.Y.: Of course. They are aware of that and they know that I have the means to prove the validity of these documents. That is the reason why I fear that they will take me back to Turkey to silence me and murder me.
“I am ready for more revelations, for sharing tougher truths”
S.K.: If you could turn the clock back now, would you have made all these revelations?
A.Y.: I had no other choice. It wasn’t just an impetuous decision. For one year I was
sending letters to “brother” Tayyip yet without any reply from him. I think I would do it again. Whether they keep me detained here or relocate me to another country I am ready for more shocking revelations, to share tougher truths, as I have evidence on hand and they are aware of it. And they will find themselves in a bind. I will not just share information that you can hear on television or read in the newspaper. I was at the core of this scheme; I am a key figure in that story.
S.K.: What are your thoughts about Erdogan now?
A.Y.: From a political perspective Erdogan created a governance system so he would rule the country for life, if he is in good health. From a sentimental point of view, I loved him and trusted him, although I now feel much differently. He has caused considerable pain not only to me but also to my wife and children.
S.K.: The only “weapon” you have at the moment is justice, isn’t it?
A.L.: Exactly. I just count on the Supreme Court of Greece to rule over injustice, to weigh up the situation in which I currently am and ultimately save my life. It is the only thing I have. I cannot do anything else. I have reconciled myself to this because the people who are after me rule the Turkish state, it is not just the Police or the judicial authorities.
S.K.: Does Erdogan have any political enemy at the moment?
A.L.: Aksener took her party out of the opposition coalition. They blamed Kılıcdaroglu of being incompetent and he was ultimately replaced, although he was a right person and the only leader to speak about corruption. They will do everything to hinder Ekrem İmamoglu from gaining power and I firmly believe that they will manage to do it. Today, the opposition is also corrupt. Mayors coming from opposition parties and their companies collaborate with the state, are mired in corruption. Erdogan plays this game pretty well. On the one hand he turns a blind eye and allows everybody to live in corruption and on the other he files corruption cases to trap them. So, if any of them are critical of him, he gets them into a tight spot and they are at his mercy.
Erdogan has two main characteristics. He meticulously keeps extensive files and destroys his enemies.
The House of investigative Journalism: The Interview with Ali Yesildag, which was conducted over telephone in Komotini Prison, has been shortened and lightly edited for readability and clarity.