UK court rejects ‘politically motivated’ Turkish extradition request of businessman
LONDON - A British court has rejected an extradition request from Ankara for exiled businessman Akin Ipek, who is facing charges of terrorism funding in Turkey. A judge said the application was “politically motivated” and that Ipek faced a risk of mistreatment should he be returned.
John Zani, district judge at London’s Westminster Magistrates’ Court, declined Turkey’s request, expressing “serious reservations about the current state of the rule of law in Turkey.”
Ipek is wanted in Turkey, along with Ali Celik and Talip Buyuk on charges of terrorism-funding, fraud and membership of the so-called Fethullah Gulen Terrorist Organisation (FETO).
The decision was a serious setback for Ankara’s efforts to have suspected FETO members in other countries returned to Turkey. Ankara has been lobbying Washington to extradite Gulen, who lives in Pennsylvania, and senior members of his movement but US officials say Turkey’s evidence against the accused is not strong enough to stand up to scrutiny in US courts.
A least 80 suspected Gulen supporters have been arrested by Turkish intelligence agents in Africa, Asia and Europe, in what critics termed illegal renditions.
Although Zani said he believed the three men would receive a fair trial in Turkey, he rejected the extradition request saying the defendants risked ill-treatment.
“I am persuaded… that there is substantial evidence that this request is politically motivated,” Zani said in his ruling.
“I am entirely satisfied that, by reason of their actual or perceived political views, coupled with the assertion by the Turkish authorities that they are part of the hierarchy of the Gulenist movement, each defendant before this court runs a real risk of Article 3 (of the Human Rights Act) breaches.”
Article 3 of the Human Rights Act is the only absolute act in the 1998 legislation and deals specifically with the prohibition of torture. “No one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment,” the British act says.
Ipek, who was in court to hear the decision, said he was “very thankful” that the extradition request had been refused. He accused the Turkish government of waging a “campaign of intimidation” against him for his anti-government views.
Ipek’s lawyer, Michael Drury, praised the court’s decision, saying: “Seldom can there have been a clearer case of a nation-state persecuting three obviously innocent men on perverse grounds.”
Ipek made a multibillion-dollar fortune in Turkey based mainly around gold mining. He was chairman of the Koza-Ipek Group, which includes a variety of operations outside of mining, including media outlets. Turkey formally seized the Koza-Ipek Group in 2015, including its media outlets, citing financial irregularities.
Ipek was a known supporter of the Gulen movement, which had, until recent years, been part of an alliance with the ruling Justice and Development Party, which is led by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Ipek fled Turkey in 2015 when relations between the government and Gulen’s followers soured. Ankara accuses the Gulen movement of being behind a 2016 failed coup attempt and has carried out a widespread crackdown against the group, including formally designating it as a terrorist organisation in May 2016 — two months before the coup attempt.
Turkish Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gul said the extradition attempt not over and the Turkish government was expected to appeal the decision in the High Court.
“It is an unacceptable ruling that our extradition request for FETO fugitives Akin Ipek, Ali Celik and Talip Buyuk was rejected by Britain,” Gul said. “Our struggle will continue until the members of the terrorist organisation are brought to Turkish justice.”
The Turkish Foreign Ministry said Ankara expressed disappointment to the UK government. “It was strongly emphasised to the British authorities that the decision of the Westminster court, which refused the extradition of the accused to our country, was unacceptable and deeply disappointing,” the ministry said in a statement.