Austria Extradites Turkish Businessman Wanted for Money Laundering
Austria extradited to the U.S. a Turkish businessman to face charges for laundering illicit proceeds from a renewable-energy tax credit fraud, the U.S. Justice Department said in a statement.
Sezgin Baran Korkmaz was arrested in June of last year and the U.S. Marshals Service escorted him to Utah on Friday. He was indicted for laundering more than US$133 million in tax fraud proceeds through a network of bank accounts and businesses in Turkey and Luxembourg.
The money came from a scheme involving the Utah-based company Washakie Renewable Energy LLC. Owned by Korkamaz’s conspirators, the company filed false claims for more than $1 billion in renewable fuel tax credits for the production and sale of biodiesel that was never actually produced.
Korkmaz and his co-conspirators, Jacob and Isaiah Kingston, brothers who led a polygamist fundamentalist Mormon sect, and Lev Aslan Dermen, an Armenian-Turkish businessman, all allegedly used the illicit proceeds to buy luxury assets and companies.
The acquisitions included businesses such as Biofarma, a Turkish airline called Borajet, a yacht named the Queen Anne, hotels in Turkey and Switzerland, and a villa on Istanbul’s Bosphorus strait.
The Kingston brothers pleaded guilty to federal charges in 2019 and Dermen was convicted in March 2020. Both the Kingstons and Dermen all await sentencing.
If found guilty, Korkmaz faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison for each count of money laundering conspiracy, wire fraud, and obstruction of an official proceeding.
Turkish prosecutors also wanted Korkmaz on the same charges and launched extradition proceedings against him last year.
A 2021 OCCRP investigation revealed Korkmaz’s role in the U.S.-Turkey relations during the Trump era, where he was on a mission to facilitate the release of Andrew Brunson, a U.S. evangelical pastor imprisoned in Turkey on terrorism charges, to gain Trump’s favor.
Although Korkmaz acted as an intermediary for Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan during this time and allegedly even held a meeting with him, Erdogan obtained a court order to delete all photographs of the two men together from the internet in late 2020, erasing any evidence of connection with Korkmaz.