YEREVAN (RFE/RL) — The United States has formally asked Armenia to extradite the former head of a Turkish American lobbying group who was arrested in Yerevan on August 29.
The Armenian police detained Kemal (Kevin) Oksuz a week after U.S. law-enforcement authorities issued an international arrest warrant for him. A Yerevan court was quick to allow the police to keep the Turkish-born man in custody for at least one month.
Oksuz used to run the Texas-based Turquoise Council of Americans and Eurasians as well as the Assembly of the Friends of Azerbaijan. The two groups came under scrutiny after organizing in 2013 an all-expenses-paid visit to Azerbaijan by 10 members and 32 staffers of the U.S. Congress.
The Washington Post reported in 2015 that the trip was secretly funded by Azerbaijan’s state-owned oil company SOCAR in violation of U.S. congressional rules. The paper said that SOCAR spent $750,000 for that purpose.
The Ethics Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives launched an inquiry into the secret funding around that time. Oksuz reportedly refused to testify in the probe.
An Armenian police statement issued on August 30 revealed that Oksuz subsequently moved to Armenia and set up a company there last year. He is now wanted in the U.S. for lying to the Ethics Committee about foreign funding received by his organizations, according to the statement.
A spokeswoman for Armenia’s Office of the Prosecutor-General, Arevik Khachatrian, told the Armenpress news agency on Wednesday that it has received a formal extradition request from U.S. law-enforcement authorities. She did not say when the Armenian side will respond to it.
Under Armenian law, final decisions on extraditing foreign nationals living in the country have to be made by the Justice Ministry. They can be challenged in court.
Armenpress also reported that the police suspect Oksuz’s Armenian-registered company called the Sena Group of tax evasion. If charged, he will risk heavy fines or up to five years’ imprisonment.
It remains unclear why Oksuz decided to relocate to Armenia, a country that has strained relations with both Turkey and Azerbaijan. Just like other Turkish American activists, he had lobbied the U.S. Congress against recognizing the 1915 Armenian genocide in Ottoman Turkey.
Reporting on Oksuz’s arrest, the pro-government Turkish newspaper “Sabah” referred to him as a “high-ranking” loyalist of Fethullah Gulen, a U.S.-based Turkish cleric facing coup charges in Turkey. The paper also called his Turquoise Council of Americans a “Gulenist umbrella organization.”
Thousands of Gulen supporters have been jailed in Turkey since a failed 2016 coup against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.