By Lise Alves, Senior Contributing Reporter
SÃO PAULO, BRAZIL – The Turkish government of Recep Erdogan wants Brazil’s government to extradite Turkish-born businessman, Ali Sipahi, stating that he is part of a terrorist group, according to Brazilian media. Sipahi, who has Brazilian citizenship, was arrested on April 5th at São Paulo’s International airport as he arrived with his family from the United States.
Ali Sipahi is accused by the Erdogan Administration of joining Hizmet, a group controlling schools, banks and large companies, including communication, in several countries. The Turkish President classifies Hizmet as a terrorist group.
Turks living in Brazil, however, disagree with Turkey’s leader. “It (Hizmet) was never an armed group,” Kamil Ergin, representative of the Brazil-Turkey Cultural Center and Chamber of Commerce (CCBT) and a colleague of Sipahi at the Center was quoted as saying by online news website G1.
“(Brazil’s) Cultural Center is an entity inspired by Hizmet. It came to Brazil to maintain cultural bridges between our two countries. In Brazil, there are about 200, 250 people from the Hizmet community in Turkey, most of them have similar profiles as Ali (Sipahi), entrepreneurs,” added Ergin.
“We are very anxious about the request of extradition of a business friend from our community, sent by the Government of Turkey to Brazil. President Erdogan is a politician who uses all the resources of the state to combat the fundamental values of democracy and does not tolerate anyone who disagrees with it,” read an official statement by the Cultural Center.
“It demonstrates a dictatorial leadership that arrests, by calling terrorists, judges, prosecutors, teachers, journalists, women, children and tens of thousands of innocent people, just because they think differently,” concluded the CCBT
The arrest and possible extradition of Sipahi has left some of his Turkish friends and co-workers concerned.
“We made many statements after the coup that happened in Turkey, criticizing even the President’s authoritarianism. I thought it would be a lot riskier (for me) to return, than my friend, who was already in jail,” said Mustafa Goktepe in a video interview to TV newschannel Globonews.
Goktepe is Sipahi’s friend and business partner in a restaurant in São Paulo. Although he also obtained a Brazilian citizenship, Goktepe heard of Sipahi’s arrest in New York and postponed his return to Brazil.
“The Turkish government spares no effort to target Hizmet people and institutions operating overseas. In Brazil, in addition to the non-renewal of passports, they seek to close courses in the Turkish language that the movement promotes in universities and cultural activities developed in partnership with prominent Brazilian institutions,” said former President Fernando Henrique Cardoso, criticizing the arrest.
Brazil’s Foreign Ministry, Itamaraty, has yet to make a formal statement about the arrest or the request by Turkey’s government for extradition.