Air India’s New CEO Ilker Ayci, A Controversial Figure

| Updated: 22 February, 2022 5:40 pm IST

New Delhi: The former Turkish Airlines Chairman Ilker Ayci appointed as the Managing Director and CEO of Air India, is a close aide of Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan with links to terror financiers.

According to the confidential documents published by Nordic Monitor in 2020, Ayci, a close aide of President Erdogan and then-president of the Investment Support and Promotion Agency of Turkey (ISPAT), “facilitated the investments and private businesses of one-time Al-Qaeda financier Yasin al-Qadi.” Al-Qadi is an Egyptian-born Saudi national, who was at one time flagged by the US treasury and the UN Al-Qaeda sanction committee.

Air India’s deputy general manager, Sameek Bhattacharya in his response to the controversy over Ayci’s appointment said, “No comments on this.” He sent The New Indian, the airlines’ official statement, which said that the Tata Sons board on February 14, “after due deliberations approved the appointment” of Ayci.

The controversy about Ayci’s proximity with Erdogan and links to al-Qaeda financier al-Qadi has been in the public domain for a while now. As per a wiretap authorised by a Turkish court as part of a corruption investigation in Turkey, Ayci secretly met with Al-Qadi on August 18, 2013 and encouraged him to bid in tenders for the privatisation of thermal power plants. He asked al-Qadi to finish the preparations for the project before his presentation to then-Prime Minister Erdogan. He also assured Al-Qadi that Erdogan had given ISPAT the full authority for dealing with foreign investors and instructed his energy minister not to interfere with foreign investments in the energy sector.

However, Al-Qadi and Erdogan’s son Bilal became leading suspects in an investigation into corruption pursued by prosecutors in Istanbul and were the subjects of detention warrants issued on December 25, 2013 by the prosecutors. Al-Qadi could not participate in the privatisation of Turkish power plants due to detention warrants. But Erdogan stepped in, illegally preventing the execution of the warrants by ordering the police to ignore the prosecutor’s orders, the Nordic Monitor wrote.

“After the removal of the prosecutors and police chiefs who were involved in the investigation, Erdogan managed to whitewash the crimes of his associates.”  The Nordic Monitor wrote that Erdogan sold the power plants to the companies close to him.

The Nordic Monitor which tracks crime and terror in Turkey is run by Turkish journalists and security professionals. It is headed by Abdullah Bozkurt, a journalist with over 20 years of experience in the Turkish media.

According to the publicly available information, Ayci graduated from the same school (Kartal Imam Hatip High School) as President Erdogan’s son, Bilal. He was the advisor to Erdogan between 1994-98 when the latter was the Mayor of Istanbul. Erdogan also attended Ayci’s wedding, as per media reports.

While Erdogan’s lawyer Arzu Akalin was appointed on the board of Turkish Airlines in 2014, Ayci was appointed as the head of Turkish Airlines in 2015. Arzu was also the president of TURGEV, a non-profit organization which was founded by Erdogan in 1996 when he was the Mayor of Istanbul. Both son and daughter of Erdogan, Bilal and Esra Albayrak have served on the boards of TURGEV.

TURGEV works in alliance with Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH), which has been accused of funding terror groups such as Al-Qaeda, Chechen separatists, ISIS and Hamas. IHH is banned in Maldives for its connection with Al-Qaeda and ISIS. IHH was also named in the UN Security Council documents and was investigated for running a line of support to armed terrorist groups in Syria.

Moreover, Islami Sangh Nepal (ISN), a Kathmandu-based organisation works in close alliance with the IHH, is under the radar of Indian intelligence agencies for allegedly providing sanctuary to fugitive Indian terrorists in 2018.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) is conducting a detailed background check of Ilkar Ayci. As per the laid down procedure, background checks of all foreign nationals appointed on important positions in India has to be carried out. Sources said that since Ayci is a Turkish national and has been involved in controversies, a detailed verification of his antecedents is being done. India’s external agency has been asked to submit a report about Ayci at the earliest. He cannot function as the MD cum CEO of Air India without getting clearance from the Government of India, they added.

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