Journalist Pelin Ünker penned a news story titled “Off-Shore Brothers” in Cumhuriyet Newspaper on November 7th, 2017.
The news story was about documents widely known as “Paradise Papers.” The documents revealed the off-shore deposits in tax havens of the world’s most powerful and wealthy individuals including politicians. Approximately 13.4 million documents were obtained by the German Süddeutsche Zeitung and then shared by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists in November 2017. Cumhuriyet Newspaper figured among the 100 media groups which examined and published the said documents.
Ünker’s news story mentioned the then Minister of Energy and Natural Resources Berat Albayrak -also the son-in-law of President Tayyip Erdoğan- as well as businessman Serhat Albayrak, his brother.
In the news story, it was indicated that Serhat Albayrak was among the executives of Frocks International Trading, an off-shore company based in Malta. Referencing Paradise Papers documents, Ünker’s article alleged that the company “requested exemption from exchange rate control regulations, which was accepted by Malta Financial Services Authority (MFSA)”.
Çalık Holding filed a complaint against the news story, demanding damages. In the petition of complaint, it was alleged that the holding’s “moral rights were violated.” The ten-page complaint petition pressed charges against Ünker, the writer of the news story, as well as the newspaper’s concessionaire Orhan Erinç and the publishing company.
In the petition, it was alleged that “Çalık Holding’s achievements were denigrated”, “its reputation built on vast past and present investments was damaged” and “the purpose of the news story is not to inform the public, but to compromise the commercial reputation of the company”.
It was alleged that the “Paradise Papers” documents referenced in the news story did not “contain any truth”. It was claimed that the said documents “served the sole purpose of provoking the general public against the company”.
The petition claimed that the articles “constituted a violation of moral rights”, and demanded a moral compensation of 10 thousand TL. The first hearing of the trial was held on December 20th, 2018 at the Istanbul 21. Civil Court of First Instance. During the first four hearings, the court repeatedly ruled to await the writ from Istanbul 2. Criminal Court of First Instance, as to whether the decision to drop the criminal lawsuit regarding the same articles was final or not.
The trial was supposed to continue with the fifth hearing on April 28th, 2020. However, the hearing was postponed due to measures against the coronavirus outbreak.
The sixth hearing of the trial was held on September 10th, 2020. Pelin Ünker did not attend the hearing. She was represented by her lawyer Abbas Yalçın.
Çalık Holding had also filed a criminal lawsuit against Ünker for the same articles. The court dropped that case because the lawsuit had not been filed within the four-month period after the publication, as stipulated in the Press Law. Çalık Holding filed an appeal against the district court’s verdict. The court of appeal rejected their application, and revised the district court’s decision to drop the case into a verdict of “acquittal” for Ünker. As such, Ünker was acquitted of the charge. The president of the court announced that the verdict of the court of appeal was added to the file.
Istanbul 21. Civil Court of First Instance demanded the court of appeal verdict in question from 2. Criminal Court of First Instance.
The trial will continue with the seventh hearing on December 22nd, 2020.
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