New Republic:  Is Erdogan trying to export his corrupt regime to  NYC?

Turkish press paid scant attention to the scandal surrounding NY mayor Eric Adams, who may have received kick-backs from Turkish entities to lobby  to fast-track the opening of a high-rise for the Turkish Consulate General, despite concerns about safety issues.  Of course, these are allegations to be tested in a court of law. Yet, this will not be the first incident of Erdogan’s cronies engaging US officials for favors.


Who can forget the case of Ex-national security adviser Michael Flynn who  was reportedly offered $15m (£11.5m) to help forcibly remove a Muslim cleric from the US and deliver him to Turkey.

The New Republic published an article titled “Eric Adams’s Entanglements With Turkey Mark a New Level of Kleptocracy”, where the author asks the question:  “Are foreign influence peddlers developing a taste for local and municipal politicians?”


Here are the critical paragraphs:


In his short time as the mayor of New York City, Eric Adams has built a reputation for playing a starring role in some of the most cartoonish moments that New Yorkers have lived through in recent years. But earlier this month, Adams’s seriocomic reign sunk to a new and outlandish low when federal agents raided the home of his lead fundraiser—suddenly linking Adams to a bizarre Turkish foreign lobbying and illicit donation scheme.


The details that have emerged so far remain murky, but the little we know already paints a damning picture. According to The New York Times, a search warrant pertinent to the case centered on “whether the mayor’s campaign kicked back benefits” to “Turkish officials,” as well as to a Brooklyn-based construction company with Turkish connections. CNN further reported that investigators are searching for evidence that foreign nationals “may have ‘bundled’ donations” to the mayor’s campaign—with others acting as “straw contributors” to obscure the foreign sources of the funds.



At first blush, the scheme borders on the ridiculous; as mayor, Adams is hardly a prominent figure in American foreign policy and would not be the most logical official for foreign financiers or regimes like Turkey to target. But on Sunday, we got confirmation of what these donors may have gotten for their alleged payments. As The New York Times reported, Adams “pressed city officials” to fast-track the opening of a high-rise for the Turkish Consulate General, despite concerns about safety issues. Adams’s “unusual intervention” allowed Turkish autocrat Recep Erdoğan to preside over the opening of what is “reportedly Turkey’s most expensive mission”—a building that, as Erdoğan claimed, reflects Turkey’s “increased power.”



As Turkish officials were undoubtedly aware, Adams—who has not been formally accused of any crimes and who claimed he constantly told staff to “follow the law”—was a clear mark, as he’d never evinced any concerns about accepting foreign funds previously. In 2021, the New York Daily News reported that Adams had “accepted thousands of dollars in travel and other perks” from some of the world’s most kleptocratic regimes, including China and Azerbaijan. Turkey, likewise, bankrolled Adams’s travel, paying thousands of dollars more for Adams’s multiple trips to the country since 2015. Adams defended his regime-sponsored visits as “totally appropriate,” claiming he was focused on trying to “further relations” between New York City and other nations.


Turkey appears to have a special relationship with Hizzoner. It’s unclear how many times Adams has visited the country while in public office. (Nor does the mayor even appear aware; as he said last month, “I’m probably the only mayor in the history of this city that has not only visited Turkey once, but I think I’m on my sixth or seventh visit to Turkey.”)


It’s nevertheless clear that Adams has found willing Turkish benefactors wherever he looked—and that the mayor was only too willing to help his hosts. From Turkish flag-raising in New York (a “first for any New York City mayor,” New York wrote) to praising Turkey’s handling of the Syrian refugee crisis, Adams has been one of the most outspoken pro-Turkish political voices in recent years, at any level of American politics.

He said in 2017 that he wanted to buy a home in Istanbul itself. And last week, The City reported that Adams further received funds from leaders of a foundation directly overseen by the family of Erdoğan himself.


Targeting Adams also makes far more sense if we look at the Turkish angle itself. The mayor is hardly the lone public official Turkish officials have reportedly targeted in the United States—nor is he even the most high-profile. Mike Flynn, Donald Trump’s former national security adviser, pleaded guilty to secretly working at the behest of Turkey, a topic for which former Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani was likewise investigated (though never charged).

Indeed, the Trump years were, as Courthouse News wrote in 2019, “boom times for Turkey’s lobbyists.” And if the recent search warrant against Adams is anything to go by, those boom times have persisted long since Trump left office.


But the newest Adams scandal also presents a new frontier for both Turkish lobbying efforts and foreign lobbying efforts more broadly. It wasn’t just that Turkish hosts glad-handed Adams, or that he happily spun Turkey to new audiences in return. The search warrant’s claims of potential foreign donations injected into Adams’s election campaign would represent a new tool in Ankara’s foreign lobbying tool kit—and, potentially, a far worse precedent for the rest of us.


Adams’s reported receipt of Turkish campaign funds, hidden behind a range of cutouts, indicates that foreign regimes are no longer interested just in federal elections—they now have their eyes on local, municipal elections as well. Put another way: The Adams allegations are just one scandal in the annals of a mayor who often paints himself into some ridiculous corners, but they also may well be the canary in the coal mine for how foreign regimes will target American politicians moving forward. And given how difficult it is to monitor and enforce campaign financing in the first place, why wouldn’t more regimes be following the model that Turkey is alleged to have set in this instance?

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Published By: Atilla Yeşilada

GlobalSource Partners’ Turkey Country Analyst Atilla Yesilada is the country’s leading political analyst and commentator. He is known throughout the finance and political science world for his thorough and outspoken coverage of Turkey’s political and financial developments. In addition to his extensive writing schedule, he is often called upon to provide his political expertise on major radio and television channels. Based in Istanbul, Atilla is co-founder of the information platform Istanbul Analytics and is one of GlobalSource’s local partners in Turkey. In addition to his consulting work and speaking engagements throughout the US, Europe and the Middle East, he writes regular columns for Turkey’s leading financial websites VATAN and and has contributed to the financial daily Referans and the liberal daily Radikal.