Regular readers are by now well acquainted with Bilal Erdogan, the son of Turkish autocrat Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Although Erdogan senior masquerades as President of a democratic society, he is in reality a despot who just weeks ago, capped off a four-month effort to nullify an undesirable ballot box outcome by scaring the electorate into throwing more support behind the ruling AKP in a do-over vote designed specifically to undermine the pro-Kurdish HDP, which put up a strong showing in the last round of elections, held in June.
As the world’s interest in Islamic State’s illicit oil trade has grown over the past 60 or so days, so too has the scrutiny on how the group gets its stolen crude to market. In the seven days since Turkey shot down a Russian Su-24 near the Syrian border, Moscow has done its best to focus the world’s collective attention on the connection between ISIS and Turkey. It’s common knowledge among those who pay attention to such things that Ankara is part of an alliance that includes Riyadh, Doha, and Washington whose collective goal is to fund and arm the Syrian opposition. What’s up for debate is the extent to which that alliance supports ISIS and, to a lesser extent, al-Nusra.
Earlier today, Vladimir Putin explicitly accused Ankara of attempting to protect ISIS oil routes by shooting down Russian warplanes which have destroyed hundreds of Islamic State oil trucks in November.
Erdogan of course denies the allegations, but as we’ve shown, it would be very easy for Turkish smugglers to commingle ISIS and KRG crude (which, by the way, is also technically illegal), effectively using Kurdish oil to mask Turkey’s participation in the Islamic State oil trade.
Some contend that Bilal Erdogan’s marine transport company BMZ Group (which owns a Maltese shipping company) is involved in trafficking ISIS oil (see our full account here).
Here’s what Syrian Information Minister Omran al-Zoub said on Friday:
“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.”
While we’ve yet to come across conclusive evidence of Bilal’s connection to ISIS, we would note that the Turkish port of Ceyhan is state-run and given Turkey’s extensive experience in smuggling KRG crude, it seems entirely fair to suggest that sneaking in 40,000 or so barrels of ISIS oil each day wouldn’t be that difficult a task. Indeed, given that Kurdish oil is, like ISIS crude, technically undocumented, Turkey will always have plausible deniability on its side (unless of course the oil is being moved into the country straight from Syria which is what Putin seems to be suggesting).
In any event, if Bilal Erdogan is in fact engaged in the trafficking of stolen crude (and take it from us, Baghdad will tell you that Kurdish crude sold independently of SOMO is every bit as illegal as Islamic State oil) it’s probably worth tracking BMZ Group’s fleet. Here’s a list of ships that Turkish or other regional media have at one time or another confirmed belong to Bilal:
You can track them all, free of charge at MarineTraffic.com:
Just don’t let Erdogan senior catch you monitoring his son’s fleet or you, like Can Dündar, editor in chief of Cumhuriyet, and Erdem Gül, the newspaper’s capital correspondent in Ankara, could end up sitting in a Turkish jail for 100 + 42 years.