As Russia continues to accuse Turkey and its presidential family of directly benefitting from the trade in oil with the Islamic State, it transpires that the oil tankers allegedly involved in the illicit business are registered in Malta and all fly the Maltese flag.
Moreover, at least one of dozens of companies set up in Malta by Azerbaijani billionaire Mubariz Mansimov – which over the last year sold oil tankers to Bilal Erdogan, the son of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan – is also at the centre of the accusations.
Russia’s allegations of Turkish involvement in ISIS’ oil trade have focused primarily on the Turkish president’s son, Bilal Erdogan. The 34-year-old is one of three equal partners in the BMZ group, a major Turkish oil and marine shipping company, which both the Russian and Syrian governments have accused of purchasing oil from ISIS.
Russian and Syrian officials and media reports from those countries suggest that Bilal Erdogan has been directly involved in the oil trade with ISIS, and that Turkey downed a Russian jet on 24 November specifically to protect his oil smuggling business.
Regional politics, propaganda and the Russia-Turkey sabre-rattling aside, the crux of the matter as far as Malta is concerned is that the fleet of five tankers owned by Erdogan’s son, which are being linked to the illegal trade, are all registered in Malta. Should the accusations continue to grow in this respect, Transport Malta would eventually be called in to investigate since the ships fly the Maltese maritime flag.
Last September, the BMZ Group purchased two oil tankers from the Malta-based Oil Transportation & Shipping Services Co Ltd, which is owned by Azerbaijani billionaire Mubariz Mansimov and which is reported to be an affiliate of the BMZ Group.
Another three oil tankers purchased by BMZ were acquired from Palmali Shipping and Transportation Agency, which is also owned by Mansimov and which shares the same Istanbul address, according to the International Maritime Organization registry, with Oil Transportation & Shipping Services Co Ltd, which is owned by Mansimov’s Palmali Group, along with dozens of other companies set up in Malta. These include a number of the group’s holding companies, shipping companies, and offshore services companies.
The Palmali Group is based in Istanbul but the lion’s share of its holdings and businesses appear to be registered in Malta through dozens of offshore companies.
The ships – purchased from Oil Transportation & Shipping Services Co Ltd and Palmali – which Turkish or other regional media have at one time or another confirmed as belonging to Bilal are: the Mecid Aslanov, the Begim Aslanova, the Poet Qabil, the Armada Breeze; and the Shovket Alekperova. They all fly the Maltese flag.
In addition to Russian accusations, Syrian Information Minister Omran Zoabi also recently alleged that Turkey downed the Russian bomber over Syria in November in response to the destruction of hundreds of truck oil tankers sent to Turkey from Syria by the ISIS.
The information minister alleged that oil smuggled into Turkey was bought by the Turkish president’s son, who owns an oil company.
Mr al-Zoubi said in an interview, “All of the oil was delivered to a company that belongs to the son of Recep [Tayyip] Erdogan. This is why Turkey became anxious when Russia began delivering airstrikes against the IS infrastructure and destroyed more than 500 trucks with oil already. This really got on Erdogan and his company’s nerves. They’re importing not only oil, but wheat and historic artefacts as well.”
Bilal Erdogan denies Russian allegations
Bilal Erdogan this week denied continuous Russian allegations that he and his family were profiting from the illegal smuggling of oil from ISIS-held territory in Syria and Iraq, after Russia’s defence ministry said it had proof that the Erdogan family was benefiting directly from this trade.
The Turkish government has already dismissed the accusations and on Tuesday the president’s son added his voice to the many denials.
“We build offices in Istanbul ... We do not do business in the Mediterranean, in Syria or Iraq,” he was quoted as saying in Corriere della Sera newspaper, talking about his own corporate concerns, which have been called into question by Russian media.
“ISIS is an enemy of my country. ISIS is a disgrace. It puts my religion in a bad light. They don’t represent Islam and I do not consider them to be Muslims,” he said.
He also denied he had any operational shipping activities, saying his company had a contract to build “river tankers” for a Russian client, but that it did not operate the ships itself.
Instead, he said that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was profiting from the sale of ISIS oil. “If you follow ISIS oil, you will find Assad.”
“What happened concerning the Russian jet was unpleasant, but we have to concentrate on the real problems: ISIS and the future of Syria,” Bilal Erdogan said.