The Black Sea
Millions of files in the Football Leaks dataset relate to the business of a Kazakh-Turkish family called the Arifs. For the past 25 years they have operated almost unnoticed, but built an empire which has cultivated relationships with Russian mobsters, post-soviet plunderers, wealthy Turks and even presidents. The source of the Arifs’ wealth is a polluting chrome foundry in Kazakhstan. Since the 1990s, the Arifs have been in business with the ‘Kazakh trio’, controversial businessmen close to Kazakhstan president, Nursultan Nazarbayev. It is these relationships that the family has spent over two decades trying to protect
Kazakhstan businessman Tevfik Arif’s letter to the Qatari royals on 30 March 2013 starts with a conciliatory tone : “I would like to take this opportunity to apologise for our not being able to meet each other in Istanbul. My son, Arif, has informed me of the events that ensued and I was most disappointed and upset to learn how matters had unfolded.”
The cause of the letter was a botched three-day, get-to-know-you meeting two weeks earlier. The board of the Qatari royals’ venture firm, Qatar Investment & Projects Development Holding Co (QIPCO) had travelled to Turkey with a couple of billion dollars to invest and met with Arif Arif, a 27-year-old businessman and face of the Arif family’s London-based trading companies, Doyen Capital and Doyen Sports. Arif – who is also known as Arif Efendi – promised the royals the highest-level meetings with government ministers and businessmen.
The Qataris cared only about one meeting, however: Could Doyen get them in the room with Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan? For weeks, the younger Arif desperately tried to engineer a meeting between the Qataris and Erdoğan. But it was all without success. The royal delegation arrived in Turkey expecting to meet with the prime minister – and instead found the leader’s door firmly closed.
The Qataris were furious, even refusing to meet with Tevfik who flew from his sickbed in London to try to soothe the dispute. In his letter, Tevfik tried his best to explain the mishap. Arif, he wrote, has “grown used to the fact that I always took him along when requesting the [Prime Minister’s] audience in the past [but] when trying to do so himself this time around the PM’s office was not so welcoming, largely due to his tender age and the fact that I was not present.”
This wasn’t bravado. Since setting up shop in Turkey, Tevfik had cultivated an impressive cabal of influential friends – and the list was growing. The dirty dealings of the Kazakh-Turkish Arif family, and their powerful friends, are exposed as the architects of the Doyen Group, the major subject of the Football Leaks data obtained by Der Spiegel and shared with EIC’s media partners.
The millions of leaked internal emails, contracts and other company documents from the Doyen Group helped The Black Sea and EIC partners reveal the inner workings of a multi-billion Euro global enterprise founded in the toxic smog and violence of Kazakhstan’s natural resources sector in the early 1990s.
It is this cash that for over two decades has helped fund an expansion into Europe, Africa, the U.S., and Turkey, rubbing shoulders with mobsters, plunderers and presidents along the way.
In Turkey, the Arifs’ main base of operations, their influence has grown, almost undetected, through secret deals with the country’s rich and powerful – including those closest to President Erdoğan.
What is clear is that the largest leak in sports history is not only about football.
Pier pressure on the Savarona
For a family who for decades had largely avoided unwanted publicity, the Savarona scandal in Turkey in 2010 was a dramatic coming out party. On 28 September 2010, officers from the Turkish gendarmerie stormed the deck of the Savarona, a luxury yacht once owned by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, founder of the Turkish Republic. On board was Tevfik “Skip” Arif and a cabal of influential businessmen, mostly from Kazakhstan, being entertained by several young ‘models’ from Russian and Eastern Europe.
Months earlier, acting on a tip from an unnamed source, police began tapping the phones of a group of Turkish pimps and associates of Tevfik. Copies of transcripts contained in the Savarona indictment, obtained by The Black Sea, reveal that police first tracked Arif and his inner-circle when they arranged orgies with prostitutes, one of whom only 15 years old, at the Rixos Hotel Belek earlier in March. Then again as they prepared the bash on the Savarona.
After the police sting operation that morning in September, Arif was arrested on sex trafficking charges. For many in Turkey, it was the first time they had heard of the Kazakh-born businessman now accused of running a prostitution enterprise that included underage girls. The charges against him might have been ambitious, but the new fame was unwelcome and problematic. The sting had exposed Arif’s powerful, billionaire friends to the media spotlight. [Read in more depth, our investigation here : Kazakh moguls, the pal of Donald Trump, teen models and the yacht of the ‘Father of the Turks‘]
On board the yacht was the ‘Kazakh trio’, Alexander Mashkevich, Patokh Chodiev and Alijan Ibragimov. The three men, none of whom are from Kazakhstan, own the multi-billion Eurasian Natural Resources Company, a mining conglomerate with close ties to the President Nursultan Nazarbayev.
So, too, was Russian-Chechen tycoon, Musa Bazhaev, head of Alliance Group in Russia. Bazhaev’s Chechen family is linked to the mafia wars of the early 90s, say Russian media, when criminal groups battled to gain control of the region’s natural resources, and used forged bank papers to embezzle billions through the post-soviet financial system.
Around the time of the Savarona incident, Bazhaev, who inherited Alliance Group in 2000 following the death of his brother Zia (who was son-in-law of Nazarbayev), was attempting to convince Mashkevich to join a prospective oil deal between Alliance Group and CapFox Congo, owned by Khulubuse Zuma, nephew of the South African president, Jacob Zuma.
Curiously, despite renting the yacht for the week, and not for the first time, Mashkevich, former-president of the Euro-Asian Jewish Congress, was never questioned by Turkish authorities. Neither were Bazhaev, Chodiev or Ibragimov.
When Arif was acquitted in 2011, the company hired UK firms, Bell Pottinger and Shillings, specialists in public relations and privacy, to cajole news organisation into removing references the Savarona affair. This was important for business. The Kazakh trio were seemingly crucial to the family’s past and future success. It is a strange friendship that going back two decades to the early days of the post-Soviet Kazakhstan and the lucrative metals business.
Astana to Istanbul: The history of the ‘Arifovs’
The men behind the Doyen are four secretive brothers from Kazakhstan: Refik Arif, Rustem Arif, Vakif Arif and Tevfik, born Tofic Arifov. Little is known about the other three, but Tevfik, an ethnic Turk born in Cambul, Kazakhstan in May 1953, earned an international relations degree from a university in Moscow. His first known job was in the USSR Ministry of Commerce and Trade in Kazakhstan in the late 70s, serving as the director of the department of hotel management.
With the end of Communism imminent and Soviet state assets ripe to be plundered, Tevfik shifted in to the private sector. During the Savarona trial, Tevfik stated that he “worked in energy sector, chemical sector and metallurgy sector. I was producing coal in Russia and copper in Kazakhstan. Due to lack of coal, it was not possible to make production. I started to organise them”. Indeed, in 1991, he retired from the ministry and started his own private commercial enterprise, called the Speciality Chemicals Trading Co. trading in “chrome, rare metals and raw materials.”
It wasn’t long before Tevfik’s business brought him into contact with the Reuben Brothers, David and Simon. Natives of India living in London, the ruthlessly ambitious Reubens were at the time in the early days of monopolising the region’s natural resource industry through their company, Trans World Group. Tevfik joined them as an “agent on the ground” in Kazakhstan, according to the company’s internal documents.
Trans World started around 1991 as a cooperation between and the Reubens and Uzbekistan-born Israeli oligarchs, Lev and Michael Cherney. It was the successor to Trans Commodities, an import/export business of Ukrainian entrepreneur Semyon “Sam” Kislin, who employed the Cherneys in the late 1980s.
The Kislin family, especially Sam, who emigrated to the U.S. from the Soviet Union in the early 70s through President Brezhnev’s exit-visa programme for Russian Jews, is mentioned by several FBI and secret service reports as being part of the Solntsevskaya Russian mafia group in New York – more precisely the Yaponchik organization of Vyacheslav Ivankov, a particularly brutal mobster, according to reports.
Over the next few years, The Cherneys and the Reuben Brothers spearheaded Trans World into a multi-billion-dollar behemoth in the natural resources sector, as it became the third biggest seller of aluminium in the world. To get to the top, the brothers played dirty – criminally dirty, say some.
It was during these years that the Arifovs likely crossed paths with the Kazakh trio. In an interview with EIC’s Belgium partner, Le Soir, Patokh Chodiev said that he, Mashkevich and Ibragimov first met the Reubens in Spring 1992. At the time, the trio were making billions selling copper on the international market through their British Virgin Islands company, Kazakhstan Mineral Resources Corporation, with the help of Kazakh officials.
Seeing a mutual interest, the Kazakh trio and the Reubens joined forces. They set up a network of offshore companies in the BVI, including one named KazChrome. It could not have hurt the fortunes of Tevfik, the Reubens or the Kazakh trio that Refik Arif, also born in Kazakhstan, in 1961, was from 1991 to 1999 senior manager at the Kazakh Ministry of Industry, and the “first point of contact for foreign investors wanting wishing to invest in phosphorous and ferroalloy”.
The eye-watering profits available during the post-Soviet fire sale inspired the rise of ‘gangster capitalism’, so-called because of the emerging cross-over of business and the mafia. Events in the region turned criminal – and deadly. The ‘Aluminium wars’ of the 1990s were a bloody battleground. Industrialists, like the Reubens and Cherneys, were accused of hiring contract killers to murder their competition in the aluminium sector.
The Reuben brothers would be forced to sell most of their assets in Russia and Kazakhstan. And based on these early deals, mostly with aluminium, a new wave of oligarchs emerged, such as Boris Berezovsky, and, later, Oleg Deripaska and Roman Abramovich.
By the end of the 1990s, the fight for soviet resources had mostly shifted from the streets and into the courts, usually London. These lawsuits provide extensive details of this period of lucrative partnership between Soviet and Russian secret services, high-ranking officials and top mobsters.
Arif is, during these years, intimately linked to the three main elements gluing post-Soviet’s violent entrepreneurs and secret services together: Trans World and mineral resources, mob organizations in the US and western European, and global financial structures that were built to serve them.
It seemed from the beginning, however, the 40-year-old Tevfik did not have the taste for blood. Tevfik’s son Arif later told a colleague his father left Kazakhstan “once the business began intertwining with organised crime”.
A toxic fortune
Tofic Arifov moved to Turkey in 1993, where, according to public records, he had owned a jewellery business called Alset Dis Ticaret for 14 years.
Within a year, he obtained a Turkish passport and Turkified his name to ‘Tevfik Arif’. Reliable information about Tevfik’s early days in Turkey is scarce. But in the Savarona indictment, he said that he did some business in the tourist and jewellery sector there, but emigrated with his wife and children to the U.S. shortly after, starting a real estate business that would eventually bring him onto contact with President-Elect Trump.
It wasn’t until the late 1990s that the family began to make its mark on Turkey and the rest of the world. But this expansion could not have occurred without the family’s solid cash source from back home – and its crucial connection to the Kazakh trio. In the mid-90s, the Arifs acquired the Aktyubinsk Chromium Chemicals Plant (ACCP) in Aktobe, located in the Aktyubinsk region of north-western Kazakhstan, near the border with Russia.
ACCP was registered to Refik Arif while he was still an official in the Ministry of Industry in Kazakhstan. Twenty years later, the plant is the only producer of chromium-based chemical products in the country. The Aktobe plant, according to a 2002 NATO Science Committee report, was responsible for pouring toxins into the local water supply, rendering it undrinkable.
Housed in the same town as ACCP is KazChrome, part of the empire established during the Kazakh trio’s ventures with the Reubens in the early 1990s, and which is now solely in the hands of ENRC. It operates one of the biggest chromium mines in the region and likely supplies ACCP with the chromium ore which is vital for its operations – and the Arif’s mysterious wealth.
The baggage of this post-Soviet world of violence and plundering was carried by the family as it set up shop in Turkey and the United States.
Goin’ to New York
Football Leaks documents prove hidden ownership of multi-billion Euro Turkish hotel and construction business, Rixos and Sembol; Sembol and Rixos CEO, Fettah Tamince, signed secret documents to hold shares on behalf of the Arif family; Tevfik Arif’s ‘Trump SoHo’ project, with President-elect Donald Trump, was “mob front” with Russian mafias partners
When Tevfik Arif’s name was plastered on the front pages of newspapers in Turkey following the Savarona scandal, Fettah Tamince, CEO of Rixos Hotels and Sembol Construction, publicly distanced these top brands – and himself – from the Arifs. In a written statement released two days after the raid, Tamince claims that, although he and Tevfik “had a partnership in 1999 through Labada Hotel in Antalya,” their relationship ended in 2007 when Tevfik bought him out of the hotel.
“We have never had any other partnership except for this one,” he added. “Unlike what’s being claimed; Tevfik Arif has no shares in Sembol Construction or Rixos Hotels nor did he contribute to these companies’ capital.”
Documents in the Football Leaks cache show a different story, a hidden arrangement, often assumed, but never proven On paper, Rixos and Sembol, two huge companies in Turkey, are owned by Tamince and Turkish architect Aytakin Gutakyn. Rixos has 20 hotels across the world, mostly in Turkey, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Russia and UAE, and boasts an annual revenue of around half a billion euro.
Sembol is even bigger. Now one of Turkey’s leading construction companies, its turnover is estimated at nearly 1.5 billion dollars, mostly earned through public contracts in Kazakhstan. A presidential library, universities, a train station, mosques, luxury business and sports centres, four Rixos hotels. Sembol built them all. And more. In Turkey, in addition to Rixos’s ten establishments, it received multi-million dollar contracts for the Istanbul Congress Centre and Zigina Tunnel on the Black Sea coast.
In 2010, the Russian Olympics Committee awarded Sembol around one billion USD in contracts for the Sochi games, including for a Rixos Hotel. During the consruction, the company was accused of exploiting migrant workers.
In September 2012, Arif Arif writes to his PA in the London office of the sports management company Doyen, where he is an unofficial director, to check if Tevfik is around. Arif wants Tevfik “to compile all news for sembol insaat and sochi winter Olympic” and “projects their doing and so on” [sic].
Additionally, copies of the Doyen’s corporate material refers to the Arifs’ “controlling interest in Rixos Group of Hotels and Sembol Construction Company”, describing them as “founding investor[s]” and “continuing financial backers”.
The clearest evidence, however, is an email sent to Arif Arif in February 2012, 18 months after the Savarona incident, by Tevfik’s business associate. Attached to an email titled “Hi Arif. Here are the Rixos documents signed between Fettah and your dad” are a series of legal documents from 2006: a ‘Declaration & Undertaking’ and ‘Memorandum of Understanding (MoU)’ – each signed by both Tamince and Tevfik – and a copy of the Rixos’s company structure.
The declaration, dated August 2006, discusses restructuring Rixos and Sembol entities in the British Virgin Islands. It states that Tamince holds shares in six companies, including Rixos, Sembol, and four others related to the hotel chain, on Arif’s behalf. “While the Shares are officially registered under the direct or indirect ownership of me, my family and other companies of which we are shareholders,” Tamince attests, “Tevfik Arif is the actual, beneficial owner” of 50 per cent of these Sembol and Rixos shares.
“The reason the Arif Shares are registered to my name,” the declaration continues, “is the confidential relationship between me and Tevfik Arif and that the intent is, was and has always been that I would hold the Arif Shares in trust on behalf of Tevfik Arif.” The accompanying MoU decrees that a new committee be established to decide on investments.
Among the five men listed to take a seat on the commission, which includes Tevfik and Tamince, are Rixos vice president and Turkish lawyer, Mutlu Simayli, and Eugene Jaffe of Salford Capital Partners. Salford is an investment firm operating out of London at the time and reputedly owned by deceased oligarchs, Badri Patarkatsishvili, from Georgia, and Russian, Boris Berezovsky, both key players in the 1990s aluminium wars.
Incidentally, in 2010 and 2011, the Arifs generously provided Berezovsky – under his new name Platon Elenin – with two unsecured loans totalling 6.5 million GBP (around eight million Euro) to “help with his personal expenses”. The loan, which was supposed to be repaid within 20 days, remained outstanding at the time of the exiled Russian’s mysterious death in 2013.
Berezovky spent much of his past few years locked in an ill-fated legal battle with Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich, who he unsuccessfully argued had robbed him of billions of dollars in shares, including in Rusal – Abramovich’s aluminium operation that subsumed the Chernoy’s business.
Tamince and Arif have been partners since at least 1999, when Tevfik invested three million dollars in the Labada project – a five-star, all-inclusive hotel on the coast of Antalya, Turkey.
At that time Tamince was already a respectable entrepreneur, famous for escaping his humble beginnings as a teenage carpet seller and establishing himself as a successful jeweller. The Labada was one of his first moves into Turkey’s lucrative tourism industry, and Rixos and Sembol were established to complete the construction.
The same year, Tamince and Tevfik started an import-export enterprise, Sardes Mucevherat Ticaret AS, importing luxury jewellery to Turkey. It was later accused of falsifying invoices to avoid taxes – a charge Tamince denies.
The Ukrainian connection
On the Rixos board is Ukrainian, Igor Gumenyuk, an associate of Rinat Akhmetov, owner of Shaktar Donetsk football team and one of Ukraine’s richest men. For two decades, Akhmetov has used the legal system to fend off allegations that his wealth is the result of early associations with organised crime.
The Arifs are, too, connected to Ukraine. Sembol has three completed projects in Ukraine: the Victoria Hotel, the Metallurg Hotel Complex, and the “Donetsk City” shopping centre, a huge construction contract in which they partnered with Igor Gumenyuk.
The photograph of Arif Arif with President Erdoğan (below) was taken at the 9th Yalta conference in Ukraine on 14 September 2012, organised by oligarch Viktor Pinchuk. Arif attended the event upon the invitation of Pinchuk, who was Akhmetov’s partner in the alleged corrupt purchase of the Ukraine’s largest steel factory in 2004.
Tevfik’s connections to the Kazakh trio and their good relations with Kazakh president Nursultan Nazarbayev may have benefitted Sembol and Rixos’s huge public contracts in Kazakhstan.
In Turkey, it is likely that Tamince’s fondness for the influential preacher Fetullah Gülen helped Tevfik establish connections within the government.
Tamince first met members of the Gülen movement, called ‘Cemaat’, in Van, a city in east Turkey, when he was 12 years old. In 2004, when Gülen and Erdoğan were on tentatively friendly terms, Tamince told Turkish media that he considered the cleric an “idol”. Later, when he became wealthy, he gave money to the group.
Tamince would cut ties with the organisation in 2013, when Gülen and Erdoğan engaged in open conflict for control of Turkey’s institutions, declaring that he had been tricked by Gülen and that he was “in love with Erdoğan”.
The power of the Gülen movement in Turkey extends to the judiciary and law enforcement institutions. This might explain how Tamince may have cautioned Tevfik in April 2010 that police were tapping the phones of many of his employees, trying to gather evidence about sex trafficking [an accusation which Tamince denies].
According to the Savarona indictment transcript, on 27 April, ‘Uncle’ Gunduz – Gunduz Akdeniz, a man close to Tevfik who was involved in the Sardes jewellery company – calls Tevfik with a warning: “Two or three days ago, Fettah Bey came to Istanbul, talked to Vakyf [Vakif Arif] Bey, told [him] man-to-man” about the surveillance, apparently active for “about a year or two already.” A lawyer involved in the case confirmed that ‘Fettah Bey’ is Fettah Tamince.
In response to questions by The Black Sea, Tamince said, “I have no relationship or contact with the after mentioned person Gündüz Akdeniz.” [sic]
He also denied any involvement with Tevfik Arif, saying “I don’t have any partnership with Tevfik Arif. At the companies I am shareholder of, Tevfik Arif doesn’t have any shares or any partnership.” He also denied interfering in the Savarona investigation.
The most public aspect of the new enterprise is the London-based sports investment and management firm, Doyen Sports, opened with a 19 million USD loan from Refik. It was to be the younger Arif’s first shot at running a family business.
Doyen Sports quickly began to acquire a roster of sports personalities like David Beckham, Usain Bolt and Boris Becker. But its principal interest was football and Third-Party-Ownership (TPO) of players, including Barcelona superstars, Neymar and Xavi Hernandez, and Monaco’s Radamel Falcao.
If the young Arif brought the money, it was Doyen Sports’s new CEO, Nelio Lucas, who provided the credability. Lucas is a Portuguese businessman who started his own football operation from the beginning of the 2000s, while still in his early twenties. He is said to have learned his craft from working for Israeli super-agent, Pini Zahavi.
But the old family ways were hard to shake off. EIC’s investigation reveals that the Arifs’ sports operation used offshore slush funds to pay millions in suspicious ‘commissions’, and Nelio and Arif tried to bribe the Real Madrid president into purchasing one of their players,using booze and prostitutes at the Arif family mansion in Miami.
It was all part of a jet-set lifestyle of girls, parties and keeping a clenched fist on their cash. Despite being a resident in London and running a multi-million-pound investment firm, Arif Arif officially only received a paltry 1,000 GBP monthly salary from Doyen. He also lived rent-free in Refik’s 20 million GBP property located at Carlyle Square in the exclusive Chelsea area of west London.
Bought by Refik in 2009, the family went to great lengths to hide the ownership and avoid UK taxes. Emails in the Football leaks trove show that in 2014 Refik and Doyen arrange to transfer the mansion’s owership from a BVI company to something called the “Carlyle Trust” in Guernsey.
Correspondence reveals that the shift was designed to save millions in inheritance taxes “in case Refik dies”, but also circumvent newly enacted HMRC tax rules on UK properties nestled in offshore companies. Specifically, the UK Annual Tax on Enveloped Dwellings (ATED), capital gains and the ten-year anniversary tax. Over ten years, this could have deprived the UK treasury of millions in revenue.
“I mean no exact tariff for the bribing”
Doyen’s main operations in Turkey run through two organisations, GGK Ỉҫ Ve Dis Ticaret Limited Sirketi and TGG Construction. TGG Construction is a property development company set up in 2011 and located north-east of the Şişli district in Istanbul. It forms part of the co-dependent construction network of Sembol and Rixos, and lists many of the group’s prestigious contracts on its website.
Guney Ikiz, former vice-chairman of Sembol and Rixos and manager of the companies’ Libya operations, was selected to run TGG, and the company’s emails provide an insight into the group’s blasé attitude towards paying bribes.
During discussions with Tevfik and Arif over the construction of a luxury condominium on Kunaev Street in Almaty, Kazakhstan, Guney writes, “Re the cost of the permits, as you would see in the Contract, we couldn’t specify the additional cost to obtain the permits. Because [Ali] Savcı [Turkish real estate agent in Bursa, Turkey] can’t say exactly how much we need to pay. I mean no exact tariff for the bribing.”
“That is a very delicate issue,” Ikiz adds, “as we communicated with A Savcı, he doesn’t want to pay on behalf of the Owner. He will tell us whom to pay.”
No one in Doyen appeared to object to the payment of this “bribe”.
A few kilometres west of the TGG offices, near Taksim Square, is GGK – “Gubre Gida Kimya”, known as Fertilizer Food Chemistry in English. GGK was established to invest in fertilizer products, mainly in Iran – but quickly emerged as a conduit for Doyen sectors, including coal, oil and uranium, such as the office which manages the family’s 6.5 per cent share in Anatolia Energy – and the Temrezli Uranium Project – through the BVI company, Blenham Ventures.
In 2012, Doyen hired a London-based, former Barclays Capital banker called Timucin Kaan as head of GGK. Kaan agreed to take the position for a 240,000 GBP salary and 180,000 GBP sign-up fee, but only if Doyen agreed to alter the terms of his contract to ensure he paid less in taxes.
“With this agreement I get taxed on everything I receive in Turkey,” he complains. “As you will remember, I mentioned from day 1 that this is an issue for me. We have discussed several solutions with Elchin Bey [Tevfik’s son-in-law]. One is to include GBP5,000 / month as my monthly salary in the written agreement where I can receive the balance offshore or privately. I have trust in the Group that if a portion of salary payment is only on a verbal agreement, this will be honoured.”
In a later email, he asks Arif Arif’s personal assistant and Doyen’s in-house lawyer to help “Set-up for tax efficient sign-up and salary payments.” [sic]
Timucin Kaan did not respond to The Black Sea’s questions about his tax affairs. After Kaan’s arrival, GGK purchased energy group Kamelot Enerji for 12.1 million USD, using a substantial cash input from Refik through his holding company Castello Ltd and the family’s Ravana Foundation. Kamelot intended to import thousands of tonnes of Russian and American coal for sale on the Turkish market.
Rather than purchasing the coal directly, however, the Arifs used their Panama company, Doyen Natural Resources (DNR), as a conduit for the transaction. Documents show that DNR bought the coal for around 180 USD per tonne, and then traded to Kamelot for ten USD more. It’s not clear for how much Doyen then sold the shipments, but Kamelot’s financial records for 2014 and 2015 show only millions in losses – and they never paid any taxes in Turkey.
Yet Kamelot continued to buy and sell coal, sending millions to DNR each month. DNR’s Credit Suisse statements show millions being paid into the family’s trusts, including the one in Guernsey which owns the London mansion.
“We need to liquidate the company ASAP”
In 2012, the Arifs had invested alongside the Kazakh trio from ENRC (led by Alexander Maskevitch) in Zamin Ferrous, a mining company owned by Indian businessman Pramod Agarwal with iron ore contracts in Brazil. The group became embroiled in a long-running legal disputes over money, including sums owed to Doyen for its initial 50 million-dollar investment.
By 2014, Doyen needed to liquidate DNR. They were concerned about Panama’s poor reputation with western banks, and a potential UK tax liability. The iron and coal business would be moved into a new Panama company called Prime Natural Resources. But before that can happen, Doyen mist find a way to disappear over four million dollars it owes to DNR for the coal, without raising suspicions of fraud with the liquidator in Panama.
“We need to liquidate DNR as quickly as possible,” internal documents reveal, “to remove any possibility that the UK tax authorities claim that any profits from DNR should be assessed in the UK because the Zamin contracts are essentially being performed from the UK office, and because we need to show to the banks that the new structure is fully set up with the Zamin contracts being an integral part of that setup.”
If Kamelot kept the cash, it would “in all likelihood be liable for Turkish tax,” says Amro Sinjab, Business Development Associate at Doyen Capital in London.
As other deals show, taxes are only minimally tolerated by the Arifs. Doyen Chief Financial Officer, Nitesh Shah, suggests moving the cash to the Arifs’ Guernsey-based company, Eristavi, owned by Arif Arif’s Lomisa Trust. Shah writes to Rupert Worsdale, a tax expert with Luxemburg advisory and investment firm, Maitland Group, who assisted Doyen and GGK during the original purchase of Kamelot.
“Whilst [the move to Eristavi] may seem straight forward at first,” writes Shah, “there is a possibility that this debt may not be repaid for a long time, and maybe never. The debt would sit in Eristavi interest free, and would be brought in as another gift either directly into Eristavi, or through the trust. Your thoughts would be appreciated.”
Worsdale agrees to help. According to emails between Amro and Shah the tax lawyer advised that “the best option would be to shift it to Eristavi as a Contribution to Capital. There would be no need for interest to be chargeable on this and the ‘debt’ can sit in Eristavi’s books until Kamelot pays it back.”
In September 2014, DNR begins gifting money to Lomisa – which disappears into the Doyen black hole of cash. Kamelot continued to trade with a new Panama company, Prime Natural Resources.
But it was not the only cash to make its way from DNR to Lomisa. A letter dated month earlier shows DNR “gifted an additional amount of USD $41,100,000.00 (forty one million one hundred thousand US dollars) to Lomisa Trust. This brings “the total amount gifted to the Trust to $46.1m”. Like DNR’s coal revenues, these millions went to increasing Eristavi’s share capital in low-tax Guernsey.
Doyen is dead. Long live Doyen
Another reason to flee from the Doyan name might have had something to do with a troublesome Bloomberg article published a year earlier. On 2 July, 2013, Bloomberg reporter, Alex Duff, published a piece about the “Kazakh Family” backers of Doyen Sport’s questionable football operation.
Although the substance of the story was relatively innocuous, it seems that mention of the Arif family, the Savarona yacht and Kazakh connections, was enough to force the family into a frenzy.
The story was apparently enough to persuade the Arifs to close the UK business and reocate to a tax-friendlier Dubai under the name Doyen Meten. At least on paper. Journalists recently visiting Doyen’s London office witnessed a fully staffed operation, with the company plaque still on the door.
The day after the story was published, Arif Arif complained to Rod Christie-Miller, Chief Executive & Partner at Schillings, a London law firm specialising in defamation and privacy. In the months and years after the Savarona affair, the Arifs employed the services of the British privacy law firm, Schillings, and Bell Pottinger, the London PR company famous for scrubbing online criticism of despotic regimes, to remove news stories linking the family to the yacht scandal.
“We don’t like fame Rod, and [the journalist] does mention the yacht incident…” Arif Arif wrote.
“I don’t know what could be done. In my eyes this isn’t a positive article nor does it want to promote us in any way. I view it as attack on our business through using past incidents to add spice to the whole picture. Third-party ownership is looked down upon by animals like [Alex] Duff, because they simply don’t understand the business and no one gives them the time of day to explain it. For this reason he slams it.”
Internal communications give a glimpse into why the Arifs’ are so publicity averse: their relationship with Mashkevich and his “friends”. Following the Savarona affair, relations between Tevfik and the Kazakhs became strained. “Mashkevich didn’t want nothing to do with us,” Arif Arif explained to his sister, Ayla. “He blamed dad for everything to cover his own ass.”
“BUT, “Ayla responded. “On the otherhand, he also is helping dad keep hold of his primary business”.
“And he’s a great friend for that,” Arif said. “But he wants to see dad doing good but not better than him.”
When the Bloomberg piece was then picked up by Tukish media, Arif complained again, this time to Nelio Lucas. “They are bringing up the yacht, the relationship to the PM [Erdoğan], everything,” Arif wrote.
“Doyen brand is dead bro. I have to distance myself and the trading from it…” he added. “Lawyers told [me] ‘now that your father has been identified as a key backer, the [Doyen] name is infected’” he added. When Nelio reassured Arif that the Bloomberg piece was “not that bad”, the heir-apparent scolded his friend, reminding him that he had always lived in the civilised world, and could not understand the power of the Kazakhs to interfere with the family’s money machine.
“The most important is the kazakhstan issue. [We] Cant let word get out there otherwise we face very big problems.” [sic]
“[You] must explain to me,” Nelio answers.
“Get it through your head it’s not funny,” he said. “[The Kazakh’s] will ruin us. They will expose us, our businesses and our high level relationships then it’s all over.” The “high-level” Turkish relationships the Arifs were desperate to protect include several businessmen close to the President.
Meet the President
The Arifs became partners with Turkish President Erdogan’s childhood friend, Sitki Ayan, on a failed Iran-Turkey-Europe gas pipeline; This partnership now includes further multi-billion deals backed by Erdogan, including exclusive contracts to sell natural gas and electricity from Iran and Turkmenistan; Arifs discussed paying millions to get Real Madrid to perform for Turkmenistan president in the hope this would facilitate the energy deal.
Even though the Savarona yacht prostitution scandal supplied an abundance of unwanted attention in Turkey, where citizens are mostly conservative, it seems it did not dampen the Arifs’ appeal to the country’s privileged elite, including those within President Erdogan’s inner circle.
It certainly didn’t sway Ali Demirhan, stalwart of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party, known as the AKP, when he became Doyen’s new legal advisor in 2012. Demirhan is a Turkish lawyer and chairman of his own construction and tourism company, Mirhan Holdings.
He is described inside Doyen as a “close friend and partner” of the Arifs. According to his own bio, Demirhan “was born in 1976 in Istanbul; he is married and has 3 children. He has a BA in Law from Istanbul University.”
He is also reputedly a good friend and supporter of Erdogan: “For the past 30 years Mr Demirhan’s family has been supporting the political career of Prime Minister Erdoğan,” the biography stated. A few years ago he unsuccessfully ran as an MP for the AKP.
Demirhan became useful almost immediately, during a scandal involving Sarah Ferguson, Britain’s Duchess of York and former wife of Prince Andrew, brother of the heir to the British throne. In 2008, the Duchess took part in an undercover documentary on the shabby state of Turkey’s orphanages. In the film, disabled chidren were left in their own excrement and one, who was never let outside, had to lay in a corridor close to a window to feel the sunlight on his face.
The film prompted Turkey’s Social Security and Child Services Authority and the Ministry of Family Affairs to lodge a criminal complaint against Ferguson for entering the country under false pretences, and claimed she was part of a “smearing campaign against Turkey by [those] opposing Turkey’s EU membership.”
The Ministry of Justice even issued an international arrest warrant. The Duchess turned to her friend in London, Arif Arif, and Demirhan, to defuse the crisis. Doyen drafted an apology letter for Ferguson addressed to Prime Minister Erdoğan explaining the misunderstanding. It is not clear if the letter was ever delivered, but the charges against Ferguson were eventually dropped.Aside from a little PR for former royals, Demirhan assisted Doyen in exploring education and gold deals in Turkey. But he also opened doors for Doyen.
On a chilly Istanbul evening in the beginning of March 2012, Demirhan introduced Doyen Capital’s vice president, Tevfik Eren to Turkey’s answer to Donald Trump: Ali Ağaoğlu – a real estate magnate close to Erdoğan. Ağaoğlu has in the past been accused of donating millions to Turgev, the education foundation of Bilal Erdoğan, the president’s son, in return for public contracts.
After a dinner at the up-market Maisa restaurant in Istanbul’s riverside neighbourhood İstinye, the trio travelled to Fiyapi Inonu stadium, home of Beşiktaş football club, to watch the team play local side Trabzon. Here, Eren made some important contacts.
“In the half time,” Eren writes, “Ali [Demirhan] introduced me to Mr Sadik Albayrak and Mr Murat Ulgen, CEO of [Beşiktaş]. Mr Sadik Albayrak is the father of Mr Berat Albayrak, CEO of Çalık Holding, who is also the son-in-law of Mr Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.”
“Both conversations were short and welcoming,” he adds. “Ali mentioned briefly about our presence in UK and told that he’d introduce me to Mr Berat Albayrak, in order to pursue potential synergies that we might achieve together.”
Ağaoğlu arranged meetings for the following day with several other prominent figures, including AKP MP Mikail Arslan, Guney Ikiz, who became head of TGG Construction a year later, Hakan Ferhatoğlu, chairman of Ata Invest & board member of construction company, and Yuksel Insaat, involved in the 6.3 billion USD Istanbul-Izmir Highway project.
It appears that the introductions bore fruit for the ambitious Arif enterprise. Doyen would soon be involved in Turkmenistan energy deals with Çalık Holding.
Enter the king of petrol who calls the president “by his first name”
The energy deals appear to be facilitated by another prominent business connection: Sitki Ayan, chairman of energy trading firm ASB Group and childhood friend of President Erdoğan. Ayan and Erdogan are close. So close that Ayan calls the president by his first name in public and occasionally joins the him on official trips abroad.
In July 2010, Ayan and the state-owned Iranian National Gas Company declared that Som Petrol, a subsidiary of ASB Group, Ayan’s main enterprise, had been awarded a billion Euro contract to help build the ‘Persian pipeline’ – a huge, four-year infrastructure project to transport 35 billion cubic metres of natural gas from Iran to the EU, though Turkey.
The ‘Persian pipeline’ – or Iran-Turkey-Europe pipeline (ITE) – deal was forged amid increased international pressure to enforce sanctions against the Iranian government over the West’s fears of nuclear proliferation.
Seemingly, the announcement by Ayan and Iranian officials came as a shock to some. Almost immediately, Turkish energy minister, Taner Yildiz, publicly rejected Ayan’s claims, declaring that neither the government nor Turkey’s Petroleum Pipeline Corporation, BOTAŞ, had determined who would receive the contract on the Turkish side.
But Ayan’s confidence was not exactly misplaced. Despite ASB Group and SOM seen largely as trading companies, with no experience in infrastructure projects of this size, Erdoğan’s cabinet approved the pipeline deal in August – as Tevfik and his Kazakh friends were preparing their adventures on Ataturk’s yacht – naming SOM Petrol subsidiary, Turang Transit Tasimacilik, as the licensee.
A year later, in the autumn of 2011, months after Tevfik was acquitted of the trafficking charges by a Turkish court, the Arifs and Ayan struck a deal for the Iranian gas. The Arifs controlled 50 per cent of the new venture, Somas Enerji, which held the rights to sell the gas in Turkey, through ASTU Doğalgaz Enerji Ticaret Ltd., jointly owned by Refik Arif and Malik Ali.
The Arifs’ role was unsurprising, given their background. According to agreements found in the Football Leaks data, they will “exclusively manage and conduct negotiations with gas suppliers from the former Soviet Union countries such as Turkmenistan, Russia, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan etc,” – in return for 20 per cent of any profits.
Ayan and his son Bahaddin Ayan would have been tasked with lobbying the “Iran government regarding transportation/transit of the natural gas to be transferred to Turkey and/or UAE”.
The Arifs were true to their word apparently. In May 2012, Turkmenistan Energy Minister Bairamgeldy Nedirov invited Sitki Ayan to a meeting in the capital Ashgabat to discuss electricity exports. Sitki graciously agrees to attend along with “Mr. Tevfik Arif, and Mr. Hamid Farzam, as Advisor to Deputy Energy Minister to Iran. [sic]” At the time, Arif Arif told Nelio Lucas that Doyen was “on the verge of something big in Turkmenistan. This will be Skips masterpiece.”
Arif suggested that they “bring either Real Madrid or Barca there to play an exhibition match to impress the president. There are billions to be made there. I need you to take this very serious and start planning asap please” [sic]. “OK,” Nelio answered, “President of Real [Madrid] is in London today. I fly with him to Madrid. A few days later, Nelio updates Arif. “It’s simple. 3m € Minimum, and they need to have a date.”
Ultimately, the money never showed up. But the willingness of the family to exploit its football connections was hampered only by a reluctance to part with three million Euro. So Real Madrid escaped having to grandstand for Turkmenistan’s autocratic leader, Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, in the service of the Arifs’ business interests.
But whatever else happened behind the scenes appears to have worked. The following year, the Turkmenenergo State Power Corporation of the Ministry of Energy in Turkmenistan awarded Ayan’s company, Gent, the rights to sell electricity to Turkey through Iran.
The Arifs were placed firmly in the centre of deal. Through its holding in ASTU Dogalgaz Enerji, the family owned 50 per cent of ASKA Energy, the company set to sell the electricity on the Turkish market. It took only a month for ASKA to obtain its licence from Turkey’s Energy Market Management Authority (EPDK). The EPDK application shows the structure of the operation, signed by Refik Arif and Sitki Ayan.