Turkish Fraudster’s Road to Honorary Greek Citizenship – Analysis – Eurasia Review

By Stavros Malichudis

In September last year, when Greek-Nigerian NBA star Giannis Antetokounmpo’s mother and younger brother were granted honorary Greek citizenship at a special ceremony in Athens, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis was present.

When historian Mark Mazower received the honor in January, Home Secretary Makis Voridis was present, while in July, when it was the turn of musicologist Christopher King for his study and promotion of Greek folk music , Mitsotakis was there again.

The presence of senior state officials at such ceremonies is now predictable. Yet when Turkish national Yasam Ayavefe received honorary citizenship in mid-June, there was no ceremony or glowing tribute from the government.

The Greek public had to wait for the investigative media “inside story” announce the news on July 7, sparking fierce debate over Ayavefe’s suitability for such an honor. Because Ayavefe is not a musicologist or a historian, and certainly not a magician on the basketball court.

He is a businessman who already holds three nationalities, who was found guilty by a Turkish court in 2017 of defrauding online gamblers and who was arrested in Greece in 2019 while trying to cross the Bulgarian border with a fake passport.

Somehow, Ayavefe overcame the hurdles to gain Greek protection from the long arm of Turkish law, and in doing so effectively transformed a state honor long reserved for those who have made a significant contribution. promoting Greek culture in a “golden visa” program for those with deep pockets.

Yasam Ayavefe’s honorary citizenship was published on June 22 in the official journal of the Greek government.

Wanted in Turkey, protected in Greece

Ayavefe, 39, has a range of business interests – from tourism and gambling in the breakaway republic of northern Cyprus, populated by Turkey, to a venture capital firm in the UK and blockchain investments .

But it was his donation of medical equipment to Greece during the COVID-19 pandemic and his real estate investments in the country that were cited by the government as grounds for granting him honorary citizenship, signed by President Katerina Sakellaropoulou and Interior Minister Voridis.

Her case signals a change in practice under the current Conservative government, said Nikos Odubitan, chief executive of Generation 2.0, a nonprofit working on migrant rights.

“We have seen an increase in honorary citizenships over the past year and a half; more and more they are linked to big businessmen, for whom neither their connection to Greece nor the kind of exceptional services they really offered are obvious,” Odubitan said.

Perhaps more worrying is the fact that by law anyone with a criminal conviction cannot claim honorary citizenship, but that rule appears to have been lifted in Ayavefe’s case.

“This is the first time we’ve seen honorary citizenship granted to someone who, by a simple internet search, appears to be involved in illegal activities,” Odubitan said.

In March 2017, an Istanbul court sentenced Ayavefe to three years and four months in prison after he was found guilty of scamming online gamers over a one-year period between 2008 and 2009.

Through self-created gambling sites, Ayavefe and his partners “ran the game as they chose, won when they wanted, and thus gained an unfair advantage”, determined the court, in a copy of the decision provided to the Greek authorities by Turkey.

On July 13, 2018, the Istanbul Prosecutor General’s Office issued an arrest warrant for Ayavefe in order to serve his sentence, but Ayavefe, at that time, was in Greece.

In February of the following year, Ayavefe was arrested by Greek police as he attempted to cross the border into Bulgaria with a fake Greek passport. Turkey has initiated the procedure to extradite him to serve his sentence for fraud.

A court in Thessaloniki, northern Greece, gave the green light for his extradition on July 25, 2019, but Ayavefe appealed and, about a month later, was granted asylum in Greece after arguing that ‘As a Christian, he was in danger if he was sent back to Greece. Turkey. He argued that his conviction in Turkey was unfounded.

The High Court found no fault with his conviction, but acknowledged that he risked being “persecuted” in Turkey if extradited, given his faith and his position as “a member of a group of dissidents opposed to the political regime in Turkey”.

Legal experts, speaking to Solomon and BIRN, questioned the grounds for protecting Ayavefe. At the time, according to documents submitted to Companies House in the UK, Ayavefe was a citizen of three states – Turkey, Serbia and Dominica.

Documents submitted to Companies House in the UK show the different nationalities with which Yasam Ayavefe was registered.

“If the reason he needed international protection was indeed that Ayavefe is a Christian, he would have had to prove to the asylum service why Serbia, a Christian country, was not safe enough for him,” he said. said a legal expert, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Nationality exchanges

Ayavefe, however, walked free. According to a statement issued on July 8 by Interior Minister Voridis, he then bought a private residence worth 1.65 million euros and invested 10 million euros in the shares of a company managing a hotel on the party island of Mykonos.

When COVID-19 hit, Ayavefe made a series of donations totaling more than €1 million to the Greek public health service, local municipalities and church foundations.

On May 23, he was baptized as a Christian in the port city of Piraeus and given the Christian name Leonidas. Regarding his honorary citizenship, two letters of recommendation were submitted – one written by the Minister of Development and Investments Adonis Georgiadis, who cited Ayavefe’s ongoing investments in the country, and another by the bishop of Piraeus, who highlighted his gifts to the church and its foundations.

Companies House documents show that on July 6 this year, Ayavefe changed his nationality when registering his company in Greek. He was first listed as Serbian, then Turkish, then Dominican.

Dominica is a Caribbean island country where foreigners can essentially purchase citizenship by investing a minimum of $100,000, guaranteeing the person in question visa-free or visa-on-arrival access to over 115 countries across the country. world.

Responding to outcry over Ayavefe’s honorary citizenship, Georgiadis, the minister who recommended him, said he faced “torture to death” if extradited to Turkey. He did not explain why asylum would not be enough to protect him from such a fate.

In the weeks that followed, the government painted Ayavefe as a political dissident, but sources familiar with his case, including a government official who spoke on condition of anonymity, paint a different picture.

They say Ayavefe has close ties to the breakaway Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, TRNC, which is only recognized by Turkey as an independent state.

When the COVID-19 pandemic started, Ayavefe made a medical donation to the TRNC. He has also invested in luxury apartments as well as a hotel and casino in Kyrenia, northern Cyprus.

Sources in Cyprus told Solomon and BIRN that Ayavefe previously lived between London and the TRNC. They dispute the claim that Ayavefe risked political persecution by authorities under Erdogan; if so, it could not invest in the TRNC either.

According to these sources, Ayavefe was forced to leave the TRNC not for political reasons but due to a rivalry with other personalities in the game.

For Generation 2.0 Chira, the case only underscores how unfair the system has become.

“How is it possible that children and young people born and brought up in Greece wait more than four years after their application to obtain citizenship, while at the same time people with dubious activities and unrelated to Greece are naturalized from day to day?

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