A notorious murder case fugitive was on Sunday shot dead in one of Istanbul’s busiest street.
Ilhan Ungan was shot dead on Bagdat Street. Ungan was supposed to be killed by Naji Sharifi Zindashti, a notorious Iranian drug lord, since he was sought with a red notice on a charge of being an instigator of the assassination of Zindashti’s daughter and chauffeur in 2014.
According to journalist Timur Soykan, Ungan’s murder may reveal an illegal mafia-state partnership as is the case in the “Susurluk incident” in the mid-1990s in Turkey.
A car accident in the village of Susurluk on November 3, 1996, revealed an ongoing partnership between members of the military, parliament, security forces and organized crime in Turkey. In the car crash, three passengers were killed, among them was a police chief, a drug trafficker and a mistress of the trafficker. A Member of Parliament was injured.
It was later established, through weapons and a diplomatic passport assigned to the trafficker, that he was personally endorsed by the then interior minister.
The scandal later resulted in a parliamentary inquiry and official reports, which further made the trafficker’s picture clear as an officially employed assassin, who was assigned to target Kurdish and Armenian militants in Europe and Turkey. After the revelations, the minister had to resign, however, nobody faced an immediate court case.
For Soykan, today’s incident is “a new Susurluk case for Turkey”.
In comparing two incidents, the journalist identified various commonalities, except for media coverage. The Susurluk case had drawn greater scrutiny from the Turkish media than today’s Bagdat Street killing, said the critical journalist.
A brief history of the Bagdat incident
Zindashti was bust with 75 kilos of heroin in Istanbul in 2007. In return for his release from prison, he was later convinced by prominent public prosecutor Zekeriya Oz to become a secret witness against a secularist, clandestine organization in the so-called Ergenekon trials, that saw hundreds of people detained on charges of attempting to overthrow the Turkish government.
In June 2014, Zindashti allegedly tipped off the police about a drug shipment of another Iranian drug lord, Cetin Koc, who, according to reports, ordered a retaliation attack on Zindashti. Orhan and Ilhan Ungan brothers, known as the mafia, however, did not kill Zindashti, but his daughter and driver mistakenly.
Two attackers, supposedly hired by the Ungan brothers, were found dead three months later.
Only two days later, Aliekber Aygun, an alleged key figure in heroin smuggling in the Netherlands, was shot dead at the traffic lights.
Orhan Ungan was captured by the police in 2015 and deported to Turkey, while his brother, Ilhan Ungan, had been sought with a red notice until he met his demise on Sunday.
Zindashti’s rival Koc was killed on May 4, 2016, in a high-security apartment in Dubai by a Canadian citizen, Garcia Aravela, who was found dead as well, a week later in a forest in Canada.
Similarly, in 2017, Kutbeddin Kaya, a lawyer to Orhan Ungan, was killed in a restaurant in Istanbul. He was representing his client who was on trial for the murder of Zindashti’s daughter.
On April 19, 2018, Zindasti was arrested together with five other suspects, including two police officers, on lots of charges, such as drug smuggling and murder. A court, however, released Zindasti and his three affiliates six months later.
Despite an arrest order by a prosecutor three hours after his release, Zindasti and his men could not be captured. An investigation was launched into the release ruling and the judge who said in a statement that a former MP of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) had forced him for the issuance of the ruling. “This is a highly sensitive issue for government,” the judge quoted the MP as saying.
According to Fatih Altayli, a columnist at Haberturk daily, the mentioned former MP was Burhan Kuzu, currently a trusted advisor to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Kuzu first denied the allegations, calling them a plot by FETO, an abbreviation formed up by the government to describe the Gulen Movement as a terrorist organization following the botched July 15 coup.
After his photo with Zindasti was published by Cumhuriyet daily on March 5, Kuzu then changed his remarks. He alleged he was introduced to Zindasti by some AKP members as a businessman, seeking Turkish citizenship. He claimed he had not helped Zindasti in that regard and had never seen him again when he heard about Zindasti’s troubles.
Being jailed on a charge of ordering Zindasti’s murder, Orhan Ungan filed a criminal complaint against Kuzu on obstruction of justice in favor of the Iranian drug lord.
On his social media account, journalist Soykan asked some questions to be answered regarding the latest Bagdat incident.
“Who let Ilhan Ungan move so freely, despite the fact that he was sought with red notice? How did Ungan’s murderers manage to escape so easily? Who has released Zindashti? Will the secret names behind this new Susurluk [-like] incident be revealed?” Soykan asked.