Donald Trump Jr.'s Paid Speech In Dubai Raises Conflict Concerns

In pictures in the local news media , the Trumps appeared smitten with the city and their business partners in Istanbul, posing with them wearing 3-D glasses at the cinema and in evening wear on a deck looking over the Bosphorus.

“They’ve really become beyond partners,” Trump said of the Dogan family, which licensed the Trump name for the towers. “They’ve become very good friends.”

Now that friendship has become politically delicate, with Trump shifting roles from real estate entrepreneur to president and preparing to navigate relations with an increasingly authoritarian Turkish government that has had a fraught relationship with the powerful business clan.

Mehmet Ali Yalcindag, 52, has been the face of Dogan Holding’s partnership with the Trump Organization. He is one of Turkey’s most prominent business leaders, along with his wife, Arzuhan Dogan Yalcindag, a former Dogan Holding chief executive.

For a time, Mehmet Yalcindag directed editorial policy for Dogan’s media holdings, which include some of Turkey’s most influential independent outlets. But he was forced to step down last year when emails released by a hacker group appeared to show Yalcindag currying favor with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, as well as coordinating with the head of a rival, pro-government media conglomerate.

In one email, he suggested that an anchor with CNN Turk — one of his own employees — was an “enemy” of the government and detailed his efforts to rein in the anchor. Yalcindag has denied sending the emails, according to Turkish media.

More recently, Yalcindag has positioned himself as an intermediary between Trump and Erdogan, who has a tense relationship with Washington.

In November, Yalcindag was a topic of conversation between Erdogan and the U.S. president-elect, according to Amberin Zaman, a Turkish journalist and public-policy fellow at the Washington-based Woodrow Wilson Center who broke the news of the call.

Serious matters were discussed, including Erdogan’s concerns about the Islamic State and Kurdish militants, Zaman wrote in Diken, an independent news outlet in Turkey. Trump also praised his business partners, including Yalcindag and his billionaire father-in-law, Aydin Dogan, the founder of Dogan Holding.

Yalcindag is a “good friend,” Trump said, while assuring Erdogan that the Turkish businessman was a “big fan of yours,” according to Zaman.

Yalcindag did not answer emailed questions about his relationship with Trump.

Dogan has had a more troubled relationship with Turkey’s president than that of his son-in-law, stemming in part from critical coverage of Erdogan in some of his group’s news outlets. Turkish authorities have levied hefty fines on Dogan, including a $2.5 billion penalty for unpaid taxes sent to Dogan Media Group in 2009. That fine drew criticism from the European Union and international press groups.

During his campaign, Trump acknowledged the sensitivities about the Istanbul towers. “I have a little conflict of interest, because I have a major, major building in Istanbul,” Trump said in a radio interview with Stephen K. Bannon, then the chief of Breitbart media site and now a close adviser.

During the interview, Bannon raised the issue of what American voters might think about Trump’s potential conflict.

“They say: ‘Hey look, this guy’s got vested business interests all over the world. How do I know he’s going to stand up to Turkey?’ ” Bannon said.

Trump did not directly address the question.

–Erin Cunningham reported from Istanbul. Kareem Fahim reported from Cairo.

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