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Afp

Albayrak: Erdogan son-in-law and Turkey finance supremo

By AFP
media Sweating profusely on an intensely hot day, Turkish Treasury and Finance Minister Berat Albayrak did not once directly address the fall of the lira AFP

Berat Albayrak, the youthful son-in-law of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is just one month into his new job of Turkish finance minister but faces the colossal task of convincing markets Ankara is serious about resolving its economic woes.

The 40-year-old husband of Erdogan's eldest daughter, Esra, was on July 9 sensationally named as finance and treasury minister, heading a newly expanded ministry, in an appointment that received a suspicious welcome from markets.

Previously minister of energy, Albayrak is now in the frontline of dealing with one of the biggest crises of Erdogan's one-and-a-half-decade rule after the Turkish lira crashed in value over a dispute with the United States.

On Thursday, he was to hold a teleconference with some 3,000 investors to explain Turkey's battle plan for grappling with the crisis.

He will be hoping to make a stronger impression than last Friday when he made a long-planned presentation on Turkey's growth strategy in Istanbul's Dolmabahce Palace at the very moment the lira was in freefall.

Sweating profusely on an intensely humid day, Albayrak did not once directly address the fall of the lira, bewildering observers.

- The 'damat' -

The rise of Albayrak to be a member of Erdogan's inner circle and one of the most powerful men in the country has been meteoric.

He first won a seat in parliament in June 2015 and was handed the key job of energy minister in November that year.

Critics say his rise smacks of the claims of nepotism and favouritism that have long surrounded the Erdogan family.

But observers close to the authorities describe Albayrak as one of the most capable figures in government.

A European official who has met Albayrak told AFP he found the fluent English speaker to be courteous and an attentive listener but hard to pin down on the most critical issues.

He is often simply known in Turkey as the "damat" -- the son-in-law.

Some compare him to Jared Kushner, the similarly-aged son-in-law of US President Donald Trump who is a senior White House adviser with key responsibilities, albeit with the difference that Albayrak began his career by being elected to parliament.

In a sign of Albayrak's proximity to Erdogan, he was holidaying with the president and closest family in the southern resort of Marmaris during the attempted coup of July 15, 2016.

He then accompanied the president on a potentially dangerous flight back to Istanbul, sitting at his side at a news conference at the city's main airport that marked the turning of the tide that night.

And even before being named finance minister, Albayrak was accompanying Erdogan to critical meetings such as with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

And in the latest sign of his importance, Albayrak was the only other Turkish official present at a lunch meeting Wednesday in Ankara between Erdogan and Qatar Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani that resulted in a promise of $15 billion direct investment in Turkey from the emirate.

Some reports have pointed to tensions within the cabinet over Albayrak and, in particular, with Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu, an outspoken favourite of the ruling party faithful whose fiery rhetoric contrasts with the finance minister's quiet demeanour.

Earlier this month, footage went viral of Soylu ahead of a ceremony appearing to barge into Albayrak's shoulder and then turning his head with a grin as the minister walked by.

Days later, the ministers were seen at another ceremony warmly shaking hands in an encounter played up by state television.

- Rapid rise -

Until late 2013, Albayrak was chief executive of the Calik Holding conglomerate which has interests in textiles, energy, but also notably media, and owns the pro-government Sabah daily and the A-Haber TV channel.

He has a Master's degree from New York's Pace University.

Erdogan is considered very close to the Albayrak family, in particular to Berat Albayrak's father Sadik, a prominent Turkish journalist and author.

Several world leaders attended Albayrak's marriage to Esra Erdogan in July 2004.

At the peak of the crisis with Russia after Turkey shot down one of its warplanes in November 2015, Moscow explicitly accused Albayrak and Erdogan's close family of participating in illicit oil smuggling trade in Syria.

The claims were vehemently denied by Erdogan and Turkish officials.

And any bitterness was soon forgotten when Albayrak smilingly signed an agreement on the construction of a Russian gas pipeline to Turkey in October 2016, a symbol of the two countries' reconciliation.

It was also Albayrak who held a crucial first ice-breaking meeting with an Israeli minister, his then counterpart Yuval Steinitz, after an agreement with the Jewish state to normalise ties.

Observers are now watching the career of Erdogan's second son-in-law Selcuk Bayraktar, who in 2016 married the president's youngest daughter Sumeyye and is a top executive at the company that has made Turkey's first domestically-produced drone.

 
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