Korkmaz helped charter flight for Venezuela’s El Aissami on U.S.-funded private jet - academic

Turkish businessman Sezgin Baran Korkmaz, who is sought by the U.S. on money laundering charges, purchased a private jet with U.S. government funding and the aircraft was used by Washington-sanctioned Venezuelan Oil Minister Tareck El Aissami, Turkish academic İmdat Öner said on Sunday.

El Aissami, who has been indicted in the United States on drug trafficking charges, used Korkmaz’s jet to travel to Turkey in January 2019, when he met with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the policy analyst said on Twitter.

The United States accuses Korkmaz, who is in police custody in Austria, of laundering more than $133 million in fraud proceeds through bank accounts that he controlled in Turkey and Luxembourg and seeks to extradite the businessman from Austria so he can appear before a U.S. judge.

El Aissami, who has been sanctioned by the U.S.Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control and features on the U.S. customs agency’s top 10 most-wanted list as a narcotics trafficker,used Korkmaz’s private jet to fly from Istanbul to Moscow on Feb. 23, 2019, and from there back to Caracas, according to Önder.

Korkmaz purchased the jet with the funds of the U.S. Treasury - used in a money laundering scheme in Turkey -  he said, citing the indictment against the 43-year-old Turkish businessman.

Korkmaz’s flights to Venezuela continued despite arrests of suspects accused of violating U.S. sanctions, the academic said, referring to the case of Leon Maal, who helped El Aissami charter a private flight from Vnukovo International Airport in Russia to Simón Bolívar International Airport in Venezuela on February of 2019. 

Maal was subsequently arrested and charged in Florida for being part of the conspiracy against the U.S. Kingpin Act by participating in flights to Russia, Turkey, Dominican Republic and Venezuela with El Aissami.

El Aissami arrived in Turkey in Feb. 2019 to finalise a deal on the gold trade with Ankara at a time when the government of embattled Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro was increasingly turning to Turkey as a partner to break its isolation.

Korkmaz’s connections to the Turkish president and his inner circle make his potential extradition and testimony regarding money laundering and wire fraud charges a sensitive matter for Erdoğan and his ruling party.

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