Skip to main content

WikiLeaks dump casts rare light on Erdogan inner circle

WikiLeaks' dump of emails has put Energy Minister Berat Albayrak's dealings back in the news.
Turkish Energy Minister Berat Albayrak speaks to media ahead of the 23rd World Energy Congress in Istanbul, Turkey, October 9, 2016. REUTERS/Murad Sezer - RTSRFQG

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan seems omnipotent, but few doubt that he is grooming Berat Albayrak as his successor. Foreign officials have described Albayrak to Al-Monitor as “Turkey’s most powerful man after Erdogan.” Some go as far as to suggest that he is already de facto running the country. Those who want to glean more about Albayrak, Turkey’s energy minister and Erdogan's son-in-law, can now sift through more than 57,000 emails supposedly associated with his personal email account that WikiLeaks released Dec. 6.

The missives, spanning the years 2000 to 2016, cast a rare light on Erdogan and his inner circle and their interactions with business, the government and the media. Some of the juiciest tidbits in “Berat’s box” are found in exchanges between Albayrak and his brother Serhat, who runs the pro-government Turkvuaz Medya conglomerate and is a board member of Calik Holding, a giant Turkish company with interests in energy, construction and telecoms, among other things.

In the emails, Serhat forwards his conversations with Mehmet Ali Yalcindag, US President-elect Donald Trump’s business partner in Turkey. Yalcindag is the son-in-law of the Turkish media mogul Aydin Dogan and has close relations with Albayrak. He arranged the Nov. 9 telephone conversation between Trump and Erdogan after Trump's election victory.

The emails reveal that Yalcindag used his position to censor Dogan-affiliated journalists critical of the president. Yalcindag was forced to step down as CEO of Dogan Publishing after Albayrak’s emails were first leaked in September by RedHack, a Turkish hacktivist group. RedHack made good on its threat to make them public after the government spurned its demands to release several left-wing activists from detention.

The government swiftly blocked access to the emails, but not before some of the more controversial content hit social media, notably information purportedly linking Albayrak to the Turkish energy company Powertrans, with which Albayrak denies any association. The correspondence, if authentic, suggests that Albayrak had a say over Powertrans affairs. This, in turn, raises conflict of interest issues because of his personal connection to Erdogan.

Powertrans, which was granted a controversial monopoly to transport crude from Iraqi Kurdistan, has been accused of mixing in oil produced in neighboring Syria by the Islamic State. The oil from IS was allegedly trucked to Iraqi Kurdistan and added to local shipments being transported by Powertrans to Turkey. Energy sources in Iraqi Kurdistan who spoke to Al-Monitor on strict condition of anonymity, however, said that if any oil were being trucked from eastern Syria and mixed in, it would be from wells operated by the Syrian Kurds, not IS. Besides, much of Powertrans’ trucking business in Iraqi Kurdistan was farmed out to subcontractors. The claims against Powertrans have yet to be backed by firm evidence of any kind.

Of course, Turkey’s loose monitoring of its 565-mile (909-kilometer) border with Syria did allow IS to move fighters, arms and oil through it for some time. Indeed, in September 2014, Al-Monitor columnist Fehim Tastekin documented the existence of an illicit pipeline carrying oil from Syria to Turkey. Turkish authorities have since destroyed the network.

Energy sales have served as a critical source of financing for IS’ terrorist and other activities. The trade took a big hit when Abu Sayyaf, the group's “emir for oil and gas,” was killed by US special operations forces in a daring raid on his headquarters in eastern Syria in May 2015. The tip-off about his whereabouts came from a teenage Yazidi girl he had enslaved but who managed to flee and make her way to Iraqi Kurdistan, where she was picked up by US special forces. 

The Delta Force operation gave the United States access to a treasure trove of information about IS’ financial network. A senior Western official contacted soon after told Al-Monitor that although IS used some Turkish middlemen for its oil and other businesses, there was no proof that the Turkish government was either implicated or involved in any way.

Join hundreds of Middle East professionals with Al-Monitor PRO.

Business and policy professionals use PRO to monitor the regional economy and improve their reports, memos and presentations. Try it for free and cancel anytime.

Already a Member? Sign in


The Middle East's Best Newsletters

Join over 50,000 readers who access our journalists dedicated newsletters, covering the top political, security, business and tech issues across the region each week.
Delivered straight to your inbox.


What's included:
Our Expertise

Free newsletters available:

  • The Takeaway & Week in Review
  • Middle East Minute (AM)
  • Daily Briefing (PM)
  • Business & Tech Briefing
  • Security Briefing
  • Gulf Briefing
  • Israel Briefing
  • Palestine Briefing
  • Turkey Briefing
  • Iraq Briefing

Premium Membership

Join the Middle East's most notable experts for premium memos, trend reports, live video Q&A, and intimate in-person events, each detailing exclusive insights on business and geopolitical trends shaping the region.

$25.00 / month
billed annually

Become Member Start with 1-week free trial
What's included:
Our Expertise AI-driven

Memos - premium analytical writing: actionable insights on markets and geopolitics.

Live Video Q&A - Hear from our top journalists and regional experts.

Special Events - Intimate in-person events with business & political VIPs.

Trend Reports - Deep dive analysis on market updates.

All premium Industry Newsletters - Monitor the Middle East's most important industries. Prioritize your target industries for weekly review:

  • Capital Markets & Private Equity
  • Venture Capital & Startups
  • Green Energy
  • Supply Chain
  • Sustainable Development
  • Leading Edge Technology
  • Oil & Gas
  • Real Estate & Construction
  • Banking

We also offer team plans. Please send an email to and we'll onboard your team.

Already a Member? Sign in

The Middle East in your inbox Insights in your inbox.

Deepen your knowledge of the Middle East

Trend Reports

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (4th R) attends a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping (3rd L) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on February 22, 2019. (Photo by HOW HWEE YOUNG / POOL / AFP) (Photo credit should read HOW HWEE YOUNG/AFP via Getty Images)

From roads to routers: The future of China-Middle East connectivity

A general view shows the solar plant in Uyayna, north of Riyadh, on March 29, 2018. - On March 27, Saudi announced a deal with Japan's SoftBank to build the world's biggest solar plant. (Photo by FAYEZ NURELDINE / AFP) (Photo credit should read FAYEZ NURELDINE/AFP via Getty Images)

Regulations on Middle East renewable energy industry starting to take shape

Start your PRO membership today.

Join the Middle East's top business and policy professionals to access exclusive PRO insights today.

Join Al-Monitor PRO Start with 1-week free trial