LONDON - Former Turkish football star Hakan Sukur revealed he has become a taxi driver and bookseller in the United States, blaming Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan for having taken everything from him.
The 48-year-old former striker, whose football career stretched from 1987-playing for Galatasaray, Inter Milan and Blackburn among other clubs, was by far the most prolific goal scorer in the history of the Turkish national side, finding the net 51 times in 112 appearances.
After football, Sukur went into politics and was in 2011 elected an MP with Erdogan's ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).
But he resigned in 2013 after a vast corruption probe that targeted Erdogan and his inner circle, siding with the movement of his arch-foe, the US-based preacher Fethullah Gulen.
Sukur had voiced objections to the government move to shut down schools run by Gulen's movement Hizmet and left Erdogan’s party in 2013.
“I’m in the USA… I’m driving for Uber for a living,” Sukur told Welt am Sonntag.
“Then the hostility started,” said Sukur, who is now based in Washington D.C,” he said.
“Stones were thrown at my wife’s boutique, my children were harassed on the street,” he added.
In 2016, Sukur was indicted for insulting the president on social media. He went on trial in absentia in June, insisting he had not intended to target the president but prosecutors said the tweets were clearly related to Erdogan. He claimed that his assets were seized.
“I received threats after every statement I made. When I had left, they locked up my father - and everything I owned was confiscated,” said Sukur.
“I have nothing left anywhere in the world. Erdogan took everything from me. My right to freedom, the right to explain myself, to express myself, the right to work,” he added.
Sukur's father is now under house arrest, released from prison after being diagnosed with cancer. His mother has also been diagnosed.
“It is a very difficult time for them. Everybody who has anything to do with me has financial difficulties,” said.
“I ran a cafe here [in California] for a while. But strange people came to it, and played Dombra music.”
Dombra music is what the AKP describes as the true music of the Turkish people.
“When I joined the AKP, Turkey was a country that conformed to EU standards and got a lot of investment from Europe,” he explained.
“But Erdogan’s politics led to bad times, and the country went in a completely different direction; an orientation towards the Middle East instead of Europe,” he said.
Opponents say Erdogan has become an increasingly polarising figure in Turkey since becoming president in 2014, showing zero tolerance for any criticism on social media or on the streets.
“Football in Turkey, like in many places, is not free and not autonomous. But we are attacked in the Turkish media [for speaking out]. They want to make sure that other athletes are too intimidated to open their mouths,” said Sukur.
“Can they show me a crime that I have committed? No. They just say ‘traitor’ and ‘terrorist’,” he said.
“I am an enemy of the government; not an enemy of the state, the Turkish nation. I love our flag, our country,” he added.
The Turkish legend said that he was banned from Galatasaray in 2017 because of a decision that was made directly by Erdogan.
“A decision like that – made without any court ruling, just an order from the top,” he said.