Even if a person prefers the view of Hakan as a goofy, bungling adolescent, “a kid with crazy hair in the air,” as he describes himself, there’s clearly another side to him. That is the financial sophisticate.
At the prison, there’s a crying little girl seated next to me; her cries fill the air like a siren. And Hakan, bursting to fill me in on the details, must nearly shout. “I started reorganizing my family finances when I was 12,” he tells me. “Initially, it was one hell of a depressing task,” he says. “I used to wonder why my life was so awkward.” Later, he came around, he says in a letter. (I’ll receive five—each with clumsy misspellings. “Priveledged” is one.) “It was my first real taste of freedom, and I liked it,” he wrote.
Hakan tells me about a family holding company he formed and the dozen related companies under it, offshore and onshore. All kinds of trusts, revocable and irrevocable, and in Turkey too. What really gets him excited, though, is talk of trading. “I would have loved to have been on a trading floor,” he shouts into the prison phone. Hakan’s trading skill is apparently the type that springs into being fully formed. He’d never worked as a trader, but credits his skill to books—his all-time favorite is When Genius Failed, the story of Long-Term Capital Management, the Greenwich-based hedge fund of Nobel laureates, whose collapse threatened the U.S. economy. Hakan, a student of that hedge fund, paid for research into its trades. That Hakan dreamed of being a hedge-fund guy I don’t doubt. He talks like a fan, relishing the trading tidbits as well as the minor details of real hedge-fund guys’ lives, the fancy car one drives or the stupendous sum another makes.
Hakan says he started trading at night. He traded Japanese bond futures, Eurex bond futures. “Basically,” he says, “anything that traded while school was out.” Sometimes he fell asleep on the floor while trading late. The night before his arrest, he tells me, his parents found him there and carried him into his twin bed.
On the subject of trading, Hakan can talk up a storm. “My trading lingo,” Hakan says and smiles, an alluring half-smile. Everyone confirms this. “He could rattle off what funds are doing in Italy, Japan, China, Hong Kong, you name it,” says Tom Andersen, who has his own accounting firm in Greenwich and met with Hakan several times. “He came across like some whiz kid.” One hedge-fund trader who met Hakan echoed the thought. “He’s like Einstein. He was talking a million miles an hour. He came off as brilliant,” says this trader, who also had an urge to tuck in Hakan’s collar, which flew in the air.
In 2003, when Hakan was 19 or, by the new math, 17, he began thinking seriously about Daedalus Capital Relative Value Fund, his second fund. Already, he says, he’d been trading family money through a fund he called Yasam Trading Group. He says it was very successful, although an audit turned out to be a fake, a misstep that Hakan told his lawyer was someone else’s fault.
Hakan tells me that when he hatched the hedge-fund idea, he approached Jackie, who hesitated. A heated discussion followed.
“Can you carry everything with school?” she asked.
Jackie was the mother who always wanted her son to reach for the stars. His father, more cautious, said, “Don’t overreach.”
Jackie asked Hakan, “How will you get investors?”
Hakan prevailed. “She had no choice,” he tells me with a beaming smile. “I’m a good salesman. I’m all about the numbers.”
Hakan is elbow-to-elbow with other prisoners—gang members, he tells me—as he launches into the numbers. It’s the Einstein routine. He mentions non-farm payrolls, swaps, and convergence issues. There’s one trade he seems really proud of. He peers through the thick plastic to make sure I write it correctly.
In the fall of 2002, he tells me, he put on a trade. “Turkish dollar bond credit default swap versus asset swap basis trade,” he dictates. He points to my paper with his eyes. “I made 300 basis points on $20 million. I made $2.7 million on that trade.”
The slurry of details, their exoticism: It’s like a burlesque of brilliance, and the fact that, as even I know, 300 basis points on $20 million is $600,000 hardly seems to matter. (He’ll correct it later.) Hakan’s trading lingo is mesmerizing.
The crying girl next door has finally calmed. But the hour is up. I linger as visitors file out. Hakan has a last question. “How will I get a job when this is over?” he asks. Lately, he’s been reduced to trading with his cell mate: In return for math help, he gets oranges.