LONDON (Reuters) - A British court has rejected an extradition request from Turkey for exiled businessman Akin Ipek to face terrorism-funding, fraud and other charges, saying he faced a real risk of ill-treatment should he be returned.
Ipek, 54, built a multi-billion-dollar fortune in Turkey based on gold mining but left the country in 2015 after relations between the government and followers of U.S.-based Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen soured.
Ankara accused Gulen, a former ally of President Tayyip Erdogan, of orchestrating a 2016 failed coup attempt and has carried out a widespread crackdown targeting his alleged followers. Gulen has denied any involvement.
Ipek and two other men, Ali Celik and Talip Buyuk, who are said by Ankara to be high-ranking members of Gulen’s organisation (FETO), were arrested by Britain earlier this year following extradition requests from Turkey.
They were accused of a series of charges including fundraising for terrorism, fraud and conspiracy to launder proceeds of crime.
John Zani, District Judge at London’s Westminster Magistrates’ Court, said while he had “serious reservations about the current state of the rule of law in Turkey”, he accepted the men would receive a fair trial there.
But he rejected the extradition requests saying the men risked ill-treatment on their return.
“I am persuaded ... that there is substantial evidence that this request is politically motivated,” Zani said in his ruling.
“I am entirely satisfied that, by reason of their actual or perceived political views, coupled with the assertion by the Turkish authorities that they are part of the hierarchy of the Gulenist Movement, each defendant before this court runs a real risk of Article 3 (of the Human Rights Act) breaches.”
The Turkish government is expected to appeal to London’s High Court against the decision, while the justice minister said the verdict could not be accepted.
“It is an unacceptable ruling that our extradition request for FETO fugitives Akin Ipek, Ali Celik and Talip Buyuk was rejected by Britain,” said Abdulhamit Gul.
“Our struggle will continue until the members of the terrorist organisation are brought to Turkish justice.”
In 2015, Turkey seized Ipek’s Koza-Ipek Group and its media outlets, including broadcasters and newspapers, on suspicion of financial irregularities, prompting criticism from rights groups in Turkey and abroad.
Turkish authorities have taken control of hundreds of firms as part of a crackdown on companies it suspects of links to Gulen and his supporters. The government has also shut down more than 130 media outlets as part of the purges.
Reporting by Michael Holden in London and Ece Toksabay in Ankara; editing by Stephen Addison