NEW YORK — Executives at KSK Construction, the Brooklyn-based contractor facing scrutiny as part of a federal investigation into Mayor Adams’ 2021 campaign, have made contributions to and worked with Turkey’s second largest political party, which controls more than a fifth of the country’s parliament, according to federal disclosures.
The revelations about KSK’s ties to the Turkish Republican People’s Party come on the heels of reports that the federal probe is scrutinizing whether Adams’ campaign conspired with KSK and the Turkish government to funnel illegal foreign cash into the campaign’s coffers. The probe prompted FBI agents last week to raid the home of Brianna Suggs, Adams’ campaign fundraising chief. Neither Suggs nor the mayor has been accused of any wrongdoing.
The left-leaning Republican People’s Party, known by its acronym CHP, leads the Turkish political opposition against the ruling Justice and Development Party, known commonly as AKP, which is controlled by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. CHP holds 130 of the Turkish parliament’s 600 seats, putting its legislative influence in the country second only to AKP, and one of its members serves as the chamber’s deputy speaker.
CHP has an American wing, headquartered in Washington, D.C., that represents the party’s interests in the U.S. and organizes “grassroots activities amongst Turkish citizens in America,” according to documents filed with the Foreign Agents Registration Act unit of the Justice Department.
Under federal law, CHP has to make periodic FARA disclosures to detail some of its activities in the U.S. since the American wing of the party is supervised, owned and financed by its Turkish counterpart, filings show.
One such filing from 2019 reveals that Erden Arkan, owner and founder of KSK, attended a fundraiser for CHP in June of that year and donated $500 to the party. Another KSK executive, Sertac Vartol, who’s listed as a partner at the Brooklyn construction firm, attended the same fundraiser and gave $750 to the party, the filing says.
Arkan gave another $1,000 to CHP in May, according to a separate federal disclosure by the party.
Records show Arkan and Varol are also among 11 KSK employees who gave a combined $13,950 to Adams’ 2021 campaign on the same day in May 2021 — a wave of contributions that have raised scrutiny since the New York Times first reported last Thursday that KSK is under federal investigation on suspicion of conspiring with the Turkish government to pump illegal foreign cash into the mayor’s campaign account via straw donors.
There’s no indication that CHP is being scrutinized as part of the federal probe into KSK and Adams’ campaign. It’s also unclear which branch of the Turkish government federal prosecutors suspect conspired with KSK to boost the Adams campaign.
A woman at KSK Construction’s offices hung up when the Daily News called Thursday afternoon to ask about the ties to CHP. A detailed message left with CHP’s Washington, D.C. office was not returned.
KSK’s ties to CHP go beyond monetary support from Arkan and Varol.
Arkan posted a photo on his Instagram handle in 2015 showing he filled out a form to serve as an election observer for the party in Turkey during the country’s parliamentary elections that year. The form was signed by Bulent Tezcan, the vice chairman of CHP who’s responsible for its legal and electoral affairs, according to party records.
Other foreign agent records CHP submitted to the Justice Department show KSK Construction helped the party distribute more than 120,000 face masks in Turkish cities during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. Specifically, the document credits KSK with amassing 5,000 masks that ended up being distributed by the party across Turkey.
The document faulted AKP, Erdoğan’s ruling party, for maintaining restrictions on face mask production in Turkey, stating that the Erdoğan administration “is not only failing at providing people with masks, it’s also preventing the private sector solutions to the problem.”
As previously reported by The News, KSK, which specializes in residential and hospitality projects in New York City, has business ties to Kiska, one of Turkey’s largest construction companies. Kiska has developed projects for Turkish government agencies, including its Ministry of Defense, according to its website.
Allies of Erdoğan’s ruling party have also helped Adams by donating to his 2021 campaign.
Adams’ 2021 campaign accepted $6,000 contributions from three members of a foundation incorporated by Bilal Erdoğan, the Turkish president’s son, a development first reported by The City news outlet Wednesday. That charity, the Turken Foundation, is also registered as a foreign agent with the U.S. Department of Justice, and has been accused of corruption by CHP.
Adams’ campaign also received $12,600 in July 2018 contributions from two members of the board of the Turkish American Steering Committee, an advocacy group at one time chaired by an Erdoğan associate, The City reported. Adams’ campaign had to return more than $8,000 of that money due to contribution limits.
In a press conference Wednesday, Adams, who has traveled to Turkey numerous times, acknowledged he once met Erdoğan, whose government has been accused by the U.S. State Department of human rights abuses, including torture and the detention of political opponents and journalists.
“I was at a dinner once here for a nonprofit, the president of Turkey was there. … He greeted me, said hello … I said hello, that was the extent of our conversation,” Adams said. He did not specify which nonprofit hosted the dinner or when it happened.
Beyond KSK, the federal investigation into Adams’ campaign revolves around Bay Atlantic University, a small Turkish-owned institution in Washington, according to the New York Times. The City reported last week that the Adams campaign received $10,000 from five employees of the university in September 2021.