Turkish police hold 10 in Atatürk yacht raid

10:11 30.09.2010

A New York based property developer is among 10 men being questioned by Turkish police after a raid on a luxury yacht once owned by the country’s founder, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.

Tevfik Arif, a Kazakh-born entrepreneur and partner of the US tycoon Donald Trump, was detained earlier this week on suspicion of organising prostitution and people trafficking, a spokesman at the governor’s office in Antalya province said.

The helicopter raid, in which several Russian and Ukrainian women were also initially detained, shocked Turks because the Savarona yacht was presented to Mr Atatürk as a gift from the nation and used by the statesman in his final weeks of illness.

Ülkü Adatepe, one of Atatürk’s adopted daughters, said her father had waited for its delivery “like a child waiting for a toy”. Turkey’s finance ministry may now reclaim the yacht, which was leased to Kahraman Sadikoglu, a Turkish businessman who told reporters he charged $30,000 to $40,000 a day for its use by wealthy clients.

Engin Agyuzlu, Mr Arif’s lawyer, said that his client was the victim of a “smear campaign” and would “vigorously defend himself in any court of law”. He also said there had been abuses of process, including illegal wire-tapping, in the detentions.

None of those detained have yet been charged. The Antalya prosecutor handling the investigation could not be contacted for comment.

A spokesperson for Mr Arif’s Bayrock group, one of the Trump Organisation’s partners in building New York’s flashy SoHo hotel condominium, said the company “knew nothing of the matter”.

Mr Arif, who began his career in hotel management as an official at the Soviet Ministry of Commerce and Trade, first invested in Turkey in 1999, building the luxury Labada hotel in Antalya in partnership with Turkey’s Rixos hotel chain.

Antalya has since become a summer playground for wealthy Russians, attracting investments such as the overblown £1bn Mardan Palace, opened in 2009 by the Azeri billionaire Telman Ismailov. Mikhail Prokhorov– another Russian tycoon once detained, and released without charge, in a French prostitution investigation in 2007 – is also reportedly considering building a hotel in the Aegean resort Cesme.

The association with Mr Arif is an embarrassment for Fettah Tamince, owner of the Rixos hotels favoured for holidays by Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s devout prime minister. Bayrock’s website lists the Rixos group as an affiliate but Mr Tamince issued a statement saying Mr Arif had no stake in Rixos or in his Sembol construction group and that Rixos no longer had a stake in the Labada hotel.