Dozens of people rallied near the Turkish embassy to protest against the arrest of Azerbaijani billionaire Mubariz Mansimov in Turkey. The police forcefully expelled journalists from the rally.
The protest happened on Wednesday afternoon with the participants chanting ‘Turkey, release Mubariz!’.
Mubariz Mansimov, an Azerbaijani-Turkish billionaire was arrested in Turkey on Sunday for alleged links with the Gulen Movement, which the Turkish government alleges masterminded the attempted military coup in July 2016. It is currently classified as a terrorist organisation in Turkey.
In February, Mansimov announced that a criminal case was opened against him. The investigation of his case is being held by Istanbul Republican Prosecutor's Office for Combating Terrorism and Organized Crime.
Several protesters addressed President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev and called for his intervention. Members of the ruling New Azerbaijan party also took part in the protest.
Journalist and civil activist Nurlan Gakhramanli told OC Media that he, along with several other journalists, was ‘subjected to violence’ by the police.
Police violently removes journalists from the rally. Video: Aygun Rashid
Ramin Deko, another journalist who was present at the protest, described the scene to OC Media.
‘[The police] pushed me, I lost my balance, fell on the ground and broke my phone’, he said. ‘They again kicked me on the arm and leg. One of them even stepped on my stomach.’
Gahramanli said that after the rally the journalists went to the Ministry of Internal Affairs and met with its chief spokesperson Ehsan Zahidov. He said Zahidov told journalists that the police violence would be investigated.
Who is Mansimov?
Azerbaijan-born Mubariz Mansimov is the founder and owner of the Palmali Group, a global freight shipping company based in Istanbul. Operating since 1998, it transports primarily oil and petroleum products. Mansimov became a Turkish citizen in 2006 and took the name Mubariz Gurbanoglu.
Palmali Group also owns the television channel Palhaber and radio stations PAL FM and PAL STATION in Turkey.
In Azerbaijan, Mansimov owns the football club Khazar-Lankaran as well as Pal Sud, a dairy product company.
An investigation by the U.S. Treasury Department revealed in May of last year that the U.S. Government suspects the Palmali Group of violating the U.S. sanctions regime against Iran and Syria by delivering Iranian oil to Syria.
Mansimov has denied the allegations.
Mansimov is known for his business and personal ties with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the U.S. President Donald Trump.
According to an investigation by the European Investigative Collaboration Network, Mansimov played a key role in Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development party and maintained close ties with Turkey’s Doğan Media Group.
He was also, allegedly, the first customer of Trump Towers in Istanbul, buying eight apartments, including the penthouse.
In 2015, Forbes magazine estimated Mansimov’s fortune at $1.3 billion. Between 2014 and 2015 Mansimov was in the list of the top ten richest people in Turkey.
Conflict with SOCAR
From 2005 to 2018, the Palmali Group had oil transport contracts with Russian oil giant Lukoil and from 2007 to 2018 with SOCAR, Azerbaijan's state-owned oil company.
In November, 2018, the Russian branch of the Palmali Group, one of the biggest players in Russia’s river-to-sea cargo market, declared bankruptcy after Lukoil Oil took Mansimov to court on allegations of tax evasion.
Mansimov was accused of using a tax haven in Malta, which was also linked to members of Turkey’s Justice and Development Party.
In April, 2018, Lukoil and Socar ended their contract for oil transportation with the Palmali Group and blacklisted the company.
Turkish Media reported that SOCAR had also confiscated 14 tankers belonging to the Palmali Group allegedly because of Palmali's inability to repay a multimillion dollar debt to SOCAR.
It was also reported that SOCAR forbade Palmali’s tankers from entering terminals and ports owned by SOCAR.
SOCAR has denied that it had seized any tankers from the Palmali Group.
Mansimov has since strongly criticized SOCAR’s president Rovnag Abdullayev and his nephew Anar Abdullayev, the CEO of Heritage General Trading, a company close to SOCAR, and has accused them of financing the Gulen Movement.
He also claimed that Abdullayev, through a subsidiary Heritage General Trading, steals public funds owned from SOCAR.
On 17 March on Facebook page named Mubariz Mansimov a post appeared which delivered a message allegedly written by the imprisoned Mansimov.
In the message, Mansimov allegedly writes that the accusations against him are the product of a months-long ‘conspiracy’ which has arisen because of his legal disputes with SOCAR and Lukoil.
Mansimov also allegedly wrote that he has gone on hunger strike against ‘all the lawlessness done against me’ and has not been taking his medication, despite the fact that he had recently undergone a serious surgery.
SOCAR released a statement on Wednesday in which they said that the arrest of Mansimov is not ‘in [their] commercial interest’, and added that his arrest is ‘no way connected’ with the upcoming SOCAR arbitration against Mansimov.
Protest in a pandemic
Siyavush Novruzov, Deputy Executive Secretary of the ruling New Azerbaijan party, told Trend News Agency on Wednesday that Mubariz Mansimov’s relatives ‘urge people to illegal actions’, when Azerbaijan takes measures to curb the spread of coronavirus and calls on the public to avoid large gatherings of people.
‘I believe that people should not respond to such calls, because at the moment we do not need it. Our main goal is to protect people from the epidemic’, he said.