Monday 20 May 2019 8:26 am

Exiles on St Mary Axe: Turkish law firm fleeing Erdogan regime establishes itself in London

After the failed July 2016 coup against Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, one of the country’s largest law firms was closed by police amid a wider crackdown that saw journalists jailed, judges detained and generals purged.

The firm had formerly been the Turkish arm of international legal giant DLA Piper, and its founding partners were among the country’s best-known and best-paid lawyers.

Over glasses of Turkish tea on the 33rd floor of the Gherkin, the co-managing partners of Karkin & Yuksel explain why they have re-launched their firm in the heart of the City’s legal market.

“London is the centre, not just for business but for the legal market. If you go out now [gesturing to the window] one third of the people down there are lawyers – you can’t find that anywhere else,” says co-managing partner Cuneyt Yuksel.

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Despite expressing optimism about the future of Turkey, the pair say the recent decision by Turkey’s electoral authorities to annul Istanbul’s mayoral election following the defeat of Erdogan’s AK Party was deeply worrying.

“It is a really extraordinary situation,” says co-managing partner Murat Karkin. “Everyone is worried about it, not only the citizens in Turkey, but international institutions like the EU, the US secretary of state and the Council of Europe.”

The pair say they were targeted after they sponsored a 2014 symposium on justice and the rule of law in Istanbul which was attended by former Labour attorney general Baroness Scotland, Conservative peer Lord Garnier QC, a barrister, and Liberal Democrat peer Lord Clement-Jones, who was formerly DLA Piper’s London head. Karkin also said the firm was categorised as a power base outside the Erdogan regime’s control.

Cunyet Yuksel (left) and Murat Karkin (right)

“They didn’t want any powerhouses in Turkey, they attacked all powerhouses; that’s why they put all the journalists in jail,” he said.

According to some reports, the firm had close links to the movement led by Islamic scholar Fethullah Gulen that was blamed by Erdogan for instigating the 2016 coup attempt, although this is something the pair deny.

“We don’t have any links to the Gulen movement, we are not part of the Gulen movement,” Karkin says.

However, Karkin says that the pair remain sympathetic with the aims of the Gulenists.

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“We believe the Gulen movement is focusing on education and dialogue all around the world – although we are not part of this movement at all, what they are doing seemed a reasonable thing,” he says.

“The regime labels people as either PKK terrorists or Gulenists in order to take action against them,” he adds.

The pair say they have not attempted to return to Turkey since the coup attempt.

“We do not want to try it – no one feels safe,” Karkin says.

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“I joke to my son about going home and he says: ‘No, this is our home,’” Yuksel says.

The pair re-established their firm in London at temporary offices in the Temple in 2017, before moving to set up shop in the Gherkin earlier this year.

They will officially launch in London in June at an event at the Supreme Court – the library of which is decorated with a Martin Luther King quote: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

Karkin says their business is growing in London and “we are happy and our clients are happy”.

However, he says the pair remain positive about Turkey’s future, despite the current political and financial turmoil.

“We are still optimistic about the future of the country, maybe these are the most difficult days, but it will be all over… These authoritarian regimes don’t last forever,” he says.