In Turkey, authorities are tackling money laundering on social networks. Several Instagram stars have been arrested this month, and this is likely just the beginning.
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From our correspondent in Istanbul,
For the moment, the case that has made the most noise concerns a couple incarcerated at the beginning of November 2023. The courts accuse Dilan and Engin Polat of having received commissions to launder funds from illegal bets. The total amounts involved would exceed 250 million pounds, or around eight million euros at current prices. Dilan and Engin Polat had become famous thanks to social networks, on which they shared photos of their extravagant lifestyle based on villas, luxury cars, designer bags, social evenings and trips to the ends of the world on a private jet.
The rapid and impressive enrichment of this couple who started from nothing ended up calling attention to themselves. The financial police accuse them of having profited from a system in which criminal networks use what in Turkish are called fenomen – influencers who quickly became popular for no particular reason – to launder money through shell companies.
The case is far from being limited to this couple, other arrests took place this week. The Turkish labor and trade ministries are reportedly investigating some 600 people who may have taken advantage of the same model to illegally enrich themselves. It is a model that the Turkish media, which closely follows the rise and fall of these network “stars”, has widely described. To summarize, criminal groups seeking to launder money offer these influencers, in exchange for juicy commissions, to create fictitious companies in their name and in the name of their loved ones.
For example, the Polat couple managed at least 27 fictitious companies. They are generally active in the world of beauty and cosmetics – chains of beauty salons, in particular – because it is a poorly regulated and poorly controlled sector. Then, using false invoices, money transfers are organized between these front companies.
The money that circulates in companies is that of criminal groups, for whom these “influencers” therefore serve as intermediaries. Thanks to them, funds of illegal origin enter the legal system via a commercial activity. The criminal groups can then recover their money, in return for a commission paid to the influencer which is around 20%, according to Turkish media.
For years, the people involved in these arrangements were not worried. Most of them started to get rich thanks to this system at the end of 2019 – beginning of 2020. And, until very recently, the fact that they continued to publish photos of their luxurious lifestyle on their networks leaves assume that they thought they were acting with impunity.
Apparently this is no longer the case. We know that Mehmet Simsek, Minister of Finance which took office in May, seeks to bring back foreign investment that has fled Turkey over the past decade. One of his priorities is to remove his country from the “grey list” of the financial action group (FATF), which brings together the 39 main financial and industrial centers on the planet. Turkey entered this list of bad students in 2021 due to its failings in the fight against money laundering and the financing of terrorism.