Dr Oz accused of breaking foreign agents law by working for Turkish Airlines

An advocacy group is urging the Justice Department to investigate Pennsylvania Senate candidate Mehmet Oz for working for Turkish Airlines without registering as a foreign agent – but Oz says he just made some videos.

The celebrity doctor is featured in promotional videos shown to passengers of the airline, which is 49.12% owned by the Turkish government, according to a 2015 FARA filing by public relations firm Golin/Harris.

“Dr. Oz is clearly serving as a foreign agent on behalf of the principal foreign Turkish Airlines,” Armenian National Committee of America Executive Director Aram Hamparian wrote Tuesday in a letter demanding that Deputy Attorney General Matthew Olsen launch an investigation. .

“These campaigns were informational materials disseminated in interstate commerce by the foreign agent on behalf of the foreign principal, but did not include the prominent statement labeling them accordingly, as required by law,” Hamparian wrote. .

A former Justice Department official who oversaw enforcement of the Foreign Agents Registration Act told the Post that the charge may be true.

In 2017, Oz “collaborated with Turkish Airlines on its ‘Fly Good Feel Good’ project, which was designed to provide an even more comfortable and healthy travel experience for its passengers,” Hamparian wrote. “Most recently, Dr. Oz appeared in an advertising campaign for Turkish Airlines, including a four-minute informational video offering a stamp of medical approval to the airline’s COVID-19 safety procedures.”

The advocacy group urges that Dr Oz’s work with Turkish Airlines be investigated.
Images by Cemal Yourttas/dia via Getty Images

The letter argues that Oz could face up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Hamparian told the Post that the Justice Department must act to protect “our nation’s national security interests,” but a person close to Oz said he had been a celebrity spokesperson and nothing more.

“Like many other well-known people, Dr. Oz was in promotional videos for the airline,” Oz campaign communications director Brittany Yanick added in a statement.

Ben Affleck and Morgan Freeman also acted as spokespersons for Turkish Airlines.
Paul Morigi/Getty Images

“Other Turkish Airlines spokespersons included Morgan Freeman and Ben Affleck. Like Dr. Oz, they were not required to register with FARA,” she said. “This political stunt is ridiculous. Individuals and companies working to further the legitimate business interests of a foreign company are not subject to FARA and are not required to register.The DOJ has repeatedly recognized this long-standing exemption under the law. , including in several recent advisory opinions.

But David Laufman, who oversaw the Justice Department’s enforcement of FARA from 2014 to 2018, told the Post he wouldn’t immediately dismiss the complaint.

“I think it would be appropriate [the Justice Department] to undertake logical, analytical and investigative steps to determine whether Dr. Oz acted as a public relations consultant or publicity agent in the United States on behalf of Turkish Airlines,” Laufman said. “If he did, he would likely be required to register unless he qualified for an exemption.”

The most obvious exemption would be a “commercial” exemption. However, that does not apply if the work directly promotes the noncommercial interests of a foreign government, Laufman said.

“In my experience, a foreign government ownership as high as 49.12% would contribute to the Department of Justice’s conclusion that a work otherwise registrable in the name of that entity in the United States – such as the work of public relations – probably wouldn’t qualify for the [commercial] exemption because the activities would directly further the public or political interests of the foreign government,” Laufman said.

Laufman, who now advises private clients on how to handle FARA issues, oversaw an increase in law-related cases while serving as head of the division’s counterintelligence and export control section. National Security Department of Justice.

“There are certain timing considerations, with respect to the upcoming Pennsylvania election, that could affect when [the Justice Department] could open such an investigation…. But I don’t think the department is precluded from taking non-public investigative steps,” Laufman said.

“The primary focus of the department’s enforcement effort with respect to FARA is to ensure compliance through recording and disclosure,” he added. “Only if the department has determined that a person deliberately broke the law – for example, that they knew they had an obligation to register, and did not do so – will criminal proceedings would be justified.”

Some people “consider it stigmatizing to register” and therefore choose not to, Laufman said, although the reasons for not registering vary.

“If an investigation results in communications where the party under investigation acknowledges the need to register under FARA, but intends not to, that would be a red flag and grounds for potential criminal prosecution,” he said.

The Justice Department declined to comment.

Turkish President and leader of the Justice and Development Party (AK Party), Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
The Turkish government, led by Recep Tayyip Erdogan, owns 49.12% of Turkish Airlines.
ADEM ALTAN/AFP via Getty Images

Oz, 61, rose to fame as a regular medical guest on Oprah Winfrey’s talk show before launching his own program in 2009. His parents immigrated to the United States from Turkey and he holds Turkish citizenship.

Former President Donald Trump endorsed Oz, who if elected would be the nation’s first Muslim senator, last month before the crowded Republican primary on May 17. Many former Trump aides work for businessman David McCormick and three other candidates have received double-digit support in recent primary polls.

Oz said in March he would give up his Turkish nationality if elected – after previously saying he would keep it and give up classified briefings.

Turkey is led by autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who in 2017 infamously watched his guards attack Kurdish-American and Armenian-American protesters in DC. Oz says he voted for Erdogan’s challenger in the 2018 Turkish elections.

Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman is favored to win the Democratic primary for the open Senate seat.

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