It was just three weeks ago that we posed “the most important question about ISIS that no one is asking.” Namely, we wanted to know who the middlemen are that assist Islamic State in smuggling some 45,000 barrels of stolen crude each and every day.
To be sure, that’s not a lot in the grand scheme of things, but it’s not exactly trivial either especially considering this is a non-state actor (well, Baghdadi would say his “caliphate” is most certainly a “state” actor, but you get the idea). We suggested that the answer may well lie with the the Glencores, the Vitols, the Trafiguras, the Nobels, the Mercurias of the world and indeed, when we look at one of the likely trafficking routes from Iraq and through Turkey, it seems possible that if ISIS is taking advantage of the same system that the KRG uses to get its crude to Ceyhan, these trading houses or at least their former employees may well be involved. After all, sources have said Trafigura and Vitol deal in Kurdish oil and when Kurdistan went looking for an advisor to assist in the effort to circumvent Baghdad, the KRG chose Murtaza Lakhani to help them find ships. Lakhani used to work for Glencore in Iraq in the 2000s.
Well when it comes to ships, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s son Bilal has a fleet via his BMZ Group. Here they are:
Amusingly, they’re all Malta-flagged which seems rather convenient given what we know about the offshore, ship-to-ship transfer ruse conducted off the Malta coast by vessels seeking to prevent Baghdad from tracking illegal Kurdish oil shipments.
In short, we already know Erdogan is moving illicit crude from the KRG (with whom Ankara is friendly by the way, despite the fact that they are Kurds) via a son-in-law and in large quantities. What's to say he isn't moving ISIS crude via the same networks through his son Bilal? Or perhaps through his other son Burak who Today's Zaman reminds us "also owns a fleet of ships [and] was featured in a report by the Sözcü daily in 2014 [when his] vessel Safran 1 was anchored in Israel's port of Ashdod” (which Al-Araby al-Jadeed says is often the destination for ISIS crude shipped from Ceyhan).
(Bilal as Robin Hood)
Just days after we completed a four-part series (here, here, here, and here) outlining everything mentioned above in exhaustive detail, the Russian MoD delivered a devastatingly convincing presentation showing photos of oil trucks, videos of airstrikes and maps detailing the trafficking of stolen oil. Moscow has been pounding the table ever since and The Kremlin has explicitly stated that Erdogan and his family are behind the trade.
“No one in the West, I wonder, does not cause the issue that the son of the President of Turkey is the leader of one of the largest energy companies, and son-in-law was appointed Minister of Energy? What a brilliant family business!,” Deputy Minister of Defence Anatoly Antonov said, in opening remarks before the press event. Then, late last week, CHP lawmaker Eren Erdem said he, like Moscow, will soon provide proof of Erdogan’s role in the smuggling of Islamic State oil. "I have been able to establish that there is a very high probability that Berat Albayrak is linked to the supply of oil by the Daesh terrorists,” Erdem said at a press conference on Thursday, referring to Erdogan’s son-in-law.
Erdogan is of course furious with the allegations, calling them “immoral” and “unacceptable,” and now, Bilal has joined his father in denying the family’s role in the smuggling of ISIS crude.
"We build offices in Istanbul ... We do not do business in the Mediterranean, in Syria or Iraq," Bilal told Corriere della Sera. "ISIS is an enemy of my country. ISIS is a disgrace. It puts my religion in a bad light. They don't represent Islam and I do not consider them to be Muslims.”
We assume Baghdadi will understand that those comments were made under duress.
Bilal also said he had no operational shipping activities, and that his company has a contract to build "river tankers", but that it did not operate the ships itself. As Reuters notes, and as we’ve shown, “Bilal has shipping and maritime assets and controls several oil tankers through his company and partnerships in other firms.” The idea that he owns all of the tankers shown above and yet somehow has "no operational shipping activities" seems absurd.
Furthermore, Bilal doesn’t think his brother is a terrorist and resents the implication.
"He has a cargo ship, but it cannot be used as a tanker,” he said.
Ok, but someone is buying the oil, and if it’s not Bilal and the Turks, then who is it? Bilal has an answer: “If you follow ISIS oil, you will find Assad,” he contends.
Note that’s the exact same line the US is trying to use, and as we said two weeks ago, it’s not clear why Assad would buy oil from a group that uses the cash at its disposal to wage war against Damascus, especially when one considers that Assad's closest allies (Russia and Iran) are major oil producers. We went on to qualify that by noting that between all the shady middlemen and double dealing, there's really no telling.
Of course the main problem with Bilal’s statement is that when “you follow ISIS oil,” you do not find Assad, you find Turkey. And on that note we’ll simply close with the following video from the Russian MoD: