New York-based property developer Tevfik Arif is being questioned by Turkish police as a suspected organizer of an international ring of high-price prostitutes, after he was arrested this week in a helicopter raid on a luxury yacht, a Turkish official said.
Arif, who is of Kazakh origin, is being held at police headquarters in Belek, near the Mediterranean resort of Antalya, and questioned in relation to the prostitution scandal, said Mahmut Deniz, head of press and public relations at the Antalya governor’s office. He said there’s been no decision on whether to press charges.
Arif is the victim of a “smear campaign” and will “vigorously defend himself in any court of law,” his lawyer Engin Agyuzlu said in an e-mail early today.
Arif was cited as the chairman of New York-based property group Bayrock Group LLC in a September 2007 press release by real-estate mogul Donald Trump’s Trump Organization to publicize the group’s SoHo Hotel Condominium in New York, in which Bayrock was a partner along with Trump and the Sapir Organization. Bayrock’s website lists that project and the Trump International Hotel and Tower in Fort Lauderdale, Florida among its projects. Bayrock’s executive vice president, Julius Schwarz, didn’t immediately return a voicemail message seeking comment.
Agyuzlu, of Istanbul-based law firm Gur, said the arrest didn’t follow due process and involved “illegal activities such as phone-tapping.” Amy Doshi, an associate attorney at New York-based law firm Akerman Senterfitt, said in a telephone interview that her firm has represented Bayrock and that she wasn’t able to discuss the allegations against Arif.
Below Legal Age
Deniz said Arif and nine other people are being held in connection with running the prostitution ring. He said 10 Russian and Ukrainian women suspected of prostitution were also detained in the operation, and one was later released. Two of those women were younger than the minimum age of 18 for legal sexual consent in Turkey, he said.
Richard Rubenstein of Rubenstein Public Relations, a spokesman for Bayrock, couldn’t provide immediate information on the issue, and Rhona Graff, a spokeswoman for Trump, declined to comment. Alex Sapir, president of the Sapir organization, the third member of the Trump SoHo Partnership alongside Trump and Bayrock, couldn’t immediately be contacted.
Fettah Tamince, main owner of Turkish hotel chain Rixos and builder Sembol Insaat, said in a written statement that Arif doesn’t have a stake in either venture. Istanbul-based Hurriyet newspaper yesterday referred to Arif as Sembol’s majority owner. Tamince said he had built a hotel in Antalya with Arif in 1999 and later transferred full ownership to his partner. He said they have no other joint ventures.
$10,000 Per Night
Russian, Kyrgyz and Kazakh businessmen and high-level government officials were also among those detained in the raid on the Savarona, a 136-meter (446-foot) yacht used by Turkey’s founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk before he died in 1938, Hurriyet said, citing unidentified local prosecutors.
The businessmen were taken into custody aboard the Savarona by Turkish military police at the end of a seven-month investigation into an international prostitution ring, Hurriyet said. They paid $3,000 to $10,000 per night to sleep with Russian and Ukrainian women obtained through modeling agencies, the newspaper said.
Turkish prosecutors aren’t accusing Bayrock of any wrongdoing, according to Hurriyet. The prosecutor’s office in Antalya, cited by the newspaper as having interviewed detainees in the case, declined to give details of the investigation when contacted by phone.
Arif, a graduate of the Moscow Institute of Trade and Economics, worked for 17 years at the Soviet Ministry of Commerce and Trade, where he served as deputy head of the hotel management department, according to a profile published in Real Estate Weekly in September 2007. After moving to the U.S., his first property deal was buying and redeveloping a 280,000 square-foot waterfront shopping center in Brooklyn, and he has investments in Miami, Switzerland and France, it said. Hurriyet said he’s a Turkish citizen.
The Savarona, built by German shipyard Blohm & Voss AG, is the longest yacht in the world available for charter, according to Power and Motoryacht magazine. In 1989, Turkish businessman Kahraman Sadikoglu paid $60 million to the Finance Ministry for the rights to operate the Savarona for 49 years. He told reporters this week he charges $30,000 to $40,000 a day for its use to help cover yearly upkeep costs of some $3 million.
Yusuf Hakki Dogan, chief prosecutor of Antalya’s organized crime division, said the group he’s investigating has also used luxury hotels in Belek for its prostitution ring, Hurriyet said.
Detainee Bites Official
Eight of the detained women were transferred to police lodgings late yesterday after questioning, and will be deported back to their countries, Milliyet newspaper reported today. The other one was still being held after she bit the arm of a security official who attempted to confiscate her mobile phone during questioning, the newspaper said.
The Turkish military policeman who led the helicopter raid on the Savarona told Milliyet that the team found all the yacht’s guests in bed when they landed around lunchtime. The official, who declined to be identified according to the newspaper, said they found dozens of condoms in each room, and didn’t initially find any drugs, illegal weapons or video equipment that could be used for blackmail.