Opening up a southern front on Turkish government from Cyprus

Opening up a southern front on Turkish government from Cyprus

The reformist Justice and Development Party (AKP) of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan faces a new problem from its southern flank in its efforts to rid Turkey of its "deep state" Ergenokon network. Turkish hard-line rightist Dervis Eroglu has narrowly won the presidential race in the self-proclaimed Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, an entity that the Erdogan government would like to see join Greek Cyprus in a loose federation, thus paving the way for Turkey's accession into the European Union.

Eroglu's narrow win over leftist incumbent Mehmet Ali Talat will only serve to embolden those Ergenekon forces in Turkey and North Cyprus that thrive in the status quo of a bifurcated Cyprus and a Turkey on the outside of the EU. The Turkish Cypriot election also provides Israel and its eastern European gangster tycoons who are involved in casinos and money laundering in a secure enclave with a murky legal status -- North Cyprus --where casinos lure Turkish gamblers from the mainland where gambling is illegal.

Eroglu insists on a sovereign North Cyprus -- a two-state solution -- a stance that is rejected by Greek Cyprus, Greece, the EU, and the Turkish government. However, North Cyprus has always benefited by the quiet support of another pariah state in the region -- Israel -- and that support will likely increase since Eroglu is at odds with the government in Ankara and Erdogan has criticized Israel over its actions in Gaza and the West Bank.

As long as Israelis are able to freely run hotel/casino complexes in North Cyprus, the proceeds can be laundered into funding Ergenekon activities in North Cyprus, as well as mainland Turkey. North Cyprus's accession into a Cypriot federation that would be covered by EU law put the casino and money laundering interests of Israel and its Ergenekon friends in jeopardy.

The North Cyprus casinos, which at last count numbered some 70, primarily draw Turks from the mainland, followed by Greek Cypriots, Israelis, and Europeans. The original law permitting casinos in North Cyprus was enacted in 1975, following North Cyprus's uniateral declaration of independence, but casino tourism did not gain momentum until the late 1990s when Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and his family began to cut lucrative casino deals on the West Bank and Cyprus. Israel, like mainland Turkey, bans gambling.

In 2003, Greek Cypriot authorities deported Israeli tourists whose Israeli tour operator concocted a scam in which the Israelis claimed they were holidaying in Larnaca, in Greek Cyprus, when, in fact, they were traveling by bus across the UN Green Line to North Cyprus to gamble. Greek Cyprus only permits legal betting on horse races and football matches.

Israeli casino flights now touch down at Antalya, on the Turkish mainland, before flying on to North Cyprus.

Israeli businessman Roni Kuperberg owns the Chateau Lambousa casino, west of Kyrenia, the major port city of northern Cyprus. Israel's Ofer Grou, owned b Israeli businessman Sami Ofer, announced plans in 2007 to build a hotel casino complex at Girne in North Cyprus.

One major Israeli player in North Cypriot gambling is Teddy Sagi. In 1999, Sagi and three other Israelis, Elad Cohen, Rami Beinish, and Amnon Ben-Zion, started Playtech, a provider of on-line gambling software that primarily used software programmers in Estonia. Sagi is a convicted stock fraudster, having been convicted of fraud in the 1996 "Discount affair," a stock manipulation scheme.

In 2009, Playtech Cyprus, Ltd. began providing casino equipment to a new Bucharest casino owned by Africa-Israel Investments, Ltd, owned by Israeli multi-billionaire Lev Leviev.

The North Cyprus connection to Ergenekon was highlighted in 2006 when an armed clash broke out in the enclave between gangs loyal to two casino owners. One of the parties was reported to have been Yasar Oz, a suspect in the Ergenekon network exposed in the Susurluk car crash incident in 1996, in which documents related to Ergenekon first surfaced.

Israel's grand designs in the Middle East can be seen in the flag devices it encourages in surrounding terriitories: Left to right: Israeli flag, flag of the "Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus," and the flag that the neocons attempted to impose on U.S.-occupied Iraq.