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Turkmenistan: Drug Smuggler Used Turkmen Passport

By Mohammad Nazar

Ankara, 31 December 1996 (RFE/RL) - Turkish reports say a murder victim, linked to a growing political scandal, routinely traveled on a diplomatic passport issued by Turkmenistan.

Omer Topal, a convicted drug smuggler, was murdered in July. He was involved with Turkmenistan's government in the construction and management of large hotels and casinos. Reports had also linked him to drug smuggling operations from Afghanistan, through Turkmenistan to Turkey. Turkish reports yesterday said Topal traveled on a diplomatic passport issued by Turkmenistan.

Reports have cited evidence collected at the scene of Topal's murder as being linked to Abdullah Catli.

Catli -- a more recent focus for the scandal -- was also a convicted drug smuggler and had been linked to Turkish government-sanctioned death squads that carried out missions in Turkey and abroad. Catli died in November in a car crash along with a top Istanbul police official and a member of Parliament from Foreign Minister Tansu Ciller's political party. Catli has been described by officials as a drug-smuggling-and-gambling rival of Topal.

Turkey's Interior Minister resigned in November amid accusations that Turkish officials have used international criminals to kill Kurdish separatists and business rivals in exchange for ignoring drug smuggling and money laundering.