By Harut Sassounian,
Three weeks ago, when I first wrote about the FBI’s investigation of New York City Mayor Eric Adams’ campaign links to Turkey, I did not realize that this would be the opening of Pandora’s box.
Last week, Adams created a defense fund to raise money to pay the legal expenses for the expanding federal probe into his 2021 election campaign. The law permits Adams to receive donations up to $5,000. However, he must disclose the names and addresses of all donors.
According to the New York Post, “Federal authorities are investigating whether the Turkish government or Turkish citizens illegally funneled donations to Adams’ campaign by using ‘straw donors’ — a scheme where contributors listed in official records aren’t the actual source of funding — and whether Adams did quid-pro-quo favors.”
Multiple sources told the New York Post: “the Adams administration staffer who was found to have allegedly ‘acted improperly’ amid the federal corruption probe into his campaign fundraising worked in the city’s Office for International Affairs before abruptly being placed on leave.” The Mayor’s office confirmed the information.
That person is Rana Abbasova who was the Mayor’s Director of Protocol. Originally from Azerbaijan, she performed advanced planning and logistics for mayoral events and traveled with him. Her annual salary is $80,651. The Post was told that she lied to federal investigators.
Abbasova previously served as community coordinator and advisor to Adams when he was Brooklyn borough President. Her biography states that: “She was responsible for international relations and maintaining relationships between the Borough President and stakeholders, including the Middle East and Central Asian countries, Muslim and Russian-speaking communities, and Non-profit organizations. She also worked with Embassies and Consulates to build relationships between countries and the Office of the Brooklyn Borough President to help overcome language barriers and cultural differences. She also organized Turkic Heritage events and assisted with Sister Cities agreements. Abbasova was also an administrative assistant for Adams’ One Brooklyn Fund, Inc. when he was still borough President.”
The City news website reported that in April 2017, Abbasova arranged a meeting between borough President Adams and the Turken Foundation, founded by Pres. Erdogan’s son, Bilal. Three of Turken’s board members contributed a total of $6,000 to the Mayor’s campaign. His schedule shows that he attended four Turken events. Turken is registered as a foreign agent with the Department of Justice.
Abbasova arranged for Adams at least three “meetings and events related to Turkey when he was borough president, a review of his schedule shows. Among them was a 2015 grand opening celebration for a Turkish restaurant in Brooklyn, which she marked as ‘important.’”
POLITICO reported that as Brooklyn borough President, Adams “attended nearly 80 events over eight years celebrating Turkey — including a flag-raising in 2015, a charity ball in 2018 and a Zoom meeting with the Turkish consul in 2020.”
After reviewing thousands of Adams’ public schedules and many social media posts, POLITICO revealed his “unusually strong relationship with Turkey, which has drawn scrutiny from federal investigators.” In 2019, as Adams “was embarking on a run for New York City mayor, he joined Martha Stewart at a gala celebrating Turkish Airlines — a company now caught up in an ongoing FBI probe into Adams’ campaign finances. At the event, Adams was photographed holding hands with two company officials over a sheet cake; after winning the mayor’s race, he appointed one of those officials — Cenk Ocal — to his transition team.” The CNN reported that on Nov. 2, the home of a Turkish Airlines executive was among the locations raided by the FBI.
POLITICO’s analysis of Adams’ Brooklyn Borough schedules turned up three mentions of the Turkish airlines: Two planned banquets celebrating the carrier in 2019 and 2020, and a cryptic entry on Oct. 2, 2015 that simply read: “Reschedule 4 p.m. Turkish airline. Rana [Abbasova] my gifts.”
Daniel Nigro, then New York City Fire Commissioner, was pressured by Adams to permit, despite safety concerns, the opening of a high-rise building that housed the Turkish consulate, just in time for the arrival of Pres. Erdogan. Nigro received a grand jury subpoena and spoke to FBI agents.
After becoming Mayor last year, Adams made virtual remarks at a real estate conference in Istanbul, which was attended by two top city officials. However, the Mayor’s participation was left out of his daily public schedule and not reported.
In addition to the home of the fundraiser for the Mayor’s campaign, the FBI raided or conducted interviews at a dozen locations as part of its investigations of campaign contributions from Turkish sources, CNN reported.
In 2022, “Adams took two trips to Turkey — one in August funded by multiple entities including the Turkish consulate, according to a financial disclosure obtained by POLITICO. Local news outlet THE CITY recently reported Turkish Airlines also chipped in for that trip, but that was omitted from the required annual disclosure. Four months later, the financial disclosure shows, an organization called the Association of Young Tourism Leaders funded another trip to Turkey for Adams. The junkets were among a half-dozen trips the mayor has said he made to the country, including a 2017 sojourn with his son, Jordan,” according to POLITICO.
While visiting Turkey as Brooklyn Borough President, Adams said that he was interested in buying a house in Istanbul, according to the Turkish Sabah newspaper. Adams also said that he is so satisfied with Turkish Airlines that he not only uses that carrier to fly to Turkey, but also to other parts of the world, like India.