When Turkish entrepreneur Selman Turk launched a new digital bank three years ago, he entered a crowded market of online start-ups hoping to grab business from traditional banks.
It seemed there was little to distinguish London-based new venture Heyman A from a host of other suitors. It had a rudimentary website, meager funding compared to some of its digital rivals, and no banking license. “We are building a good bank for good people,” its website said. A footnote added that it was “in the process of applying” to become a bank in the UK.
But just seven months after the new venture launched, a Turkish man in a suit was on stage with the Duke of York at St James’s Palace, picking up the People’s Choice award at the prestigious Pitch@Palace event. The November 6, 2019 contest was Prince Andrew’s version of the BBC show The dragon’s lair, but with an inestimable royal cachet. It was a dramatic blow for the former Goldman Sachs banker Turk and his fledgling bank, but it did not secure the future of the company, which was dissolved in September last year.
It emerged last week that Turk, 35, was being sued by a Turkish millionaire, Nebahat Evyap Isbilen, 77, who claims she was the victim of fraud. She is seeking the return of around £38million. He disputes the allegations.
Turk helped manage Isbilen’s financial affairs, and court documents claim Turk demanded a payment of £750,000 to be made to Prince Andrew, just nine days after receiving the award at St James’s Palace.
The money, from Isbilen’s private bank account, has since been repaid, but raises new questions for Prince Andrew: Did he and his advisers know the payment was linked to Turk, and what was the money used for? Prince Andrew is not at the heart of the complex High Court proceedings and is not accused of any wrongdoing.
In his statements to the High Court, Isbilen said Turk told him the payment was a gift for Prince Andrew after he claimed he had helped obtain a replacement passport.
She also said she saw an email from Turk to his private bank, Hampden & Co, saying the payment was a wedding gift for Princess Beatrice, who married property tycoon Edoardo Mapelli Mozzi in July 2020.
Isbilen told the court that she considers the allegations about Prince Andrew’s alleged role in obtaining a passport or that the money transfer was a wedding gift to be both false.
In an extraordinary transcript of an appeal published by the Daily mail Amanda Thirsk, former private secretary to Prince Andrew and former director of Pitch@Palace, reportedly told a Hampden & Co banker carrying out compliance checks yesterday that she believed the money was a giveaway. She reportedly said, “I understand it’s a wedding gift… What she [Beatrice] and his family decide to take care of it, it’s really up to them, isn’t it? Thirsk told the Mail she couldn’t remember the call, but wouldn’t have been involved in anything inappropriate.
It has also been reported that Prince Andrew’s ex-wife Sarah Ferguson has also received payments of at least £225,000 from Turk through a company called Alphabet Capital which is believed to be linked to the payment owed to him for his work with a solar energy company. Her spokesperson said she was completely unaware of the allegations that have now emerged.
Isbilen is part of the Turkish family that owns the Evyap group of companies, which offers a range of soap and personal care brands. Her husband, Ilhan Isbilen, is the former deputy leader of the ruling AK party and has been a political prisoner in Turkey since 2015.
Isbilen says she gave Turk effective control of $87.5m (£66.7m) funds and he ‘dishonestly and systematically’ abused her trust. She said she had a limited ability to understand English and needed help moving her assets out of Turkey. She claims he dishonestly mismanaged his funds.
Pitch@Palace was founded by the Duke of York in 2014 to “amplify and accelerate the work of entrepreneurs”. The program aimed to help businessmen “build connections” and secure investments.
His future, however, was in jeopardy when Turk won the prize for his bank.
Prince Andrew had given away his famous BBC Two Newsnight interview 10 days after the awards ceremony, triggering a public backlash. Companies such as KPMG, Barclays, Bosch and Standard Chartered subsequently ended their sponsorship of Pitch@Palace. Its future activities are currently under consideration.
Prince Andrew’s spokesman said there would be no comment on an ongoing legal case.