Prostitution ring 'used yacht owned by founder of Turkey'

The late founder of modern Turkey met Cabinet ministers and hosted foreign envoys aboard the MV Savarona, one of the world's largest yachts, shortly before his death in 1938.

Generations later, according to prosecutors, the luxury vessel played host to a more illicit side of life as the stage for an international prostitution ring catering to rich businessmen whose alleged ringleaders went on trial yesterday.

The ten suspects face charges including human smuggling, encouraging prostitution and establishing a crime ring, the Anatolia news agency reported.

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One of the suspects, Tevfik Arif, a Kazakh businessman, is accused of financing a sex party aboard the MV Savarona, the 408ft yacht that was once used by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, a former army officer and war hero who founded the Turkish state after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in the early 20th century.

Arif denied the accusations and was released pending trial along with four other suspects, Anatolia said.

The court ordered them not to leave the country and adjourned the trial until 18 February.

Turkey deported nine Russian and Ukrainian women, including two minors, after authorities said they broke up a prostitution ring aboard the MV Savarona in late September.

After the raid, embarrassed Turkish government authorities said that the lease of the yacht would be cancelled and the white, steam-powered vessel, turned into a museum.

The agency report said the indictment alleges that Arif bankrolled the party aboard the yacht, which has 17 luxurious suites in addition to the master suite.

"He is someone who paid for all fees for the women, the agencies and men in the middle and the transfer of foreigners involved," Mr Anatolia quoted the indictment as saying.

The prosecutors have alleged that Arif organised the parties for prominent foreign businessmen in Turkey to secure business deals.

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The New York-based businessman, who said he had partnerships in the United States, Britain and Turkey, called the charges "imaginary".

On its website, Arif's company says it is a property investment and development firm.

It lists the Trump Organisation, owned by the US tycoon Donald Trump, as a partner in the group's SoHo Hotel Condominium in New York and the Trump International Hotel and Tower in Fort Lauderdale in Florida.

A helicopter raid on the Savarona in October garnered widespread global coverage.

The ship was built in 1931 for Emily Roebling Cadwalader, the grand-daughter of John Augustus Roebling, architect of the Brooklyn Bridge.

The Turkish government bought the yacht in 1938, the same year Ataturk died.The former leader spent six weeks on the MV Savarona, where he chaired Cabinet meetings and hosted some foreign dignitaries.

A prominent Turkish businessman leased the yacht for 49 years in 1989, the Turkey tourism ministry said.

The ship was later sub-leased to different customers.

Turkish President Abdullah Gul spent a few hours on the yacht off Antalya in the summer of 2009 when he hosted the president of Turkmenistan.