The Saga of Yoko Ono, Her Chauffeur and Lost Lennon Treasures
By MICHAEL WILSON
The melodrama between Yoko Ono and her chauffeur, playing out in New York City courtrooms and across newspaper headlines 11 years ago, appeared to end with that two-month span of accusations, denials and threats.
The chauffeur, Koral Karsan, was sent back to his native Turkey after 60 days in jail, and Ms. Ono returned to her public creative pursuits and the side of her life she has long kept private, within the walls of the apartment in the Dakota where she once lived with her husband, John Lennon.
But shortly after meeting with Ms. Ono last month in Manhattan, the police in Berlin this week announced what amounts to an audacious coda to that 2006 chain of events. The police said they have mounting evidence that Mr. Karsan, even as he was accusing Ms. Ono of sexual harassment and demanding $2 million to stay quiet, was stealing Lennon’s personal effects from the cupboards of her apartment in the Dakota.
Or was he? Mr. Karsan, 61, in a brief statement Friday from his home in Turkey, said Ms. Ono gave him the Lennon items in 2006. That claim suggests a likely return to the spotlight for the fraught relationship born years ago inside a hired limousine.
Many of the missing items were found earlier this year, in storage at a bankrupt German auction house, but others, including a sculpture of Mr. Lennon and “very personal documents,” are still missing, the police said. Mr. Karsan remains in Turkey and cannot be extradited to Germany. “We think he was the thief,” said Martin Steltner, a spokesman for the state prosecutor’s office in Berlin.
Ms. Ono, 84, met with German investigators last month in New York, and was presented with a notebook that belonged to Lennon for her to identify. “It was very emotional for her,” Mr. Steltner said.
CreditDavid Karp/Associated Press
The story begins 11 years ago with the public unraveling of the relationship between Ms. Ono and her driver of more than a decade, the man who shuttled the rock star’s widow to and from her apartment by day and returned at night to his home in Amityville on the South Shore of Long Island. He had been a driver for a limousine service Ms. Ono used, and she hired him to be her personal driver, his lawyer said at the time.
In December 2006, Mr. Karsan was arrested and accused of threatening to release private audiotapes and photographs if Ms. Ono did not give him $2 million. He made the threats in a letter and in a conversation with Ms. Ono’s lawyer in which he also threatened to kill Ms. Ono and her son, the police said.
Mr. Karsan’s letter was later released, in which he accused Ms. Ono of ruining his marriage and self-esteem. “As you know, I have loyally served you in many capacities as your driver, bodyguard, assistant, butler, nurse, handyman and more so your lover and confidant over the last 10 years,” the letter stated. Ms. Ono’s spokesman at the time denied those claims. “All of that is untrue,” the spokesman, Elliot Mintz, said then.
Prosecutors dropped the extortion charges in February 2007 and allowed Mr. Karsan to plead guilty to a lesser charge of attempted grand larceny. He was ordered to immediately leave the United States for Turkey.
A decade passed. Then, earlier this year, in July, a lawyer in Berlin made a startling discovery. Auctionata, a Berlin auction house, had gone bankrupt, and a lawyer going through the items in storage found Lennon’s property and called the police.
The police said the items, 86 in all, including eyeglasses and diaries, had been sold to the auction house in 2014 by a man identified as Erhan G. It is standard in German investigations that the police do not release the full name of a suspect. The police sent photographs of the items to Ms. Ono’s lawyer in New York, and Ms. Ono identified them as having been taken from her home.
“We heard from Yoko Ono that the items were in different cupboards in her flat,” Mr. Steltner said on Friday. “Not in a safe, not in a special place. She thought earlier that some items were missing, but she couldn’t say.” She had never reported the items stolen, Mr. Steltner said.
On Oct. 30, German investigators arrived in New York, and the following day, they met with Ms. Ono in the German consulate. They handed her a notebook from 1952 and photographs of other items in Berlin, and she said they had belonged to Lennon.
The police arrested Erhan G. this week. On Thursday, he admitted to having sold the items to the auction house, and said he had gotten them from Mr. Karsan, Mr. Steltner said. “We do not know the details of how those suspect men worked together,” Mr. Steltner said.
The police found photographs of more of Lennon’s belongings in Erhan G.’s computer, and he told them they were hidden away somewhere, Mr. Steltner said. “We are missing some walking sticks and a special, small sculpture,” along with the private papers, “very personal documents and letters we don’t want to publish,” he said.
Mr. Karsan, reached for comment by email on Friday, said he took the items out of the apartment at the instruction of Ms. Ono, along with other valuables, as a powerful storm approached the city in 2006 and she feared the apartment could be damaged. He included an email he said was from Ms. Ono, asking him to perform several tasks ahead of the storm. The email does not mention Lennon’s possessions, but rather, paintings and file cabinets.
Mr. Karsan said he locked the items away in Long Island and that he did not return them, but that Ms. Ono knew where they were. He said that after his conviction, he left them behind when he returned to Turkey. He was not allowed to contact her after his conviction, so he kept the items and eventually had them sold to the auction house, he said. “At least I can get my compensation,” he wrote.
A spokesman and a spokeswoman for Ms. Ono did not reply to emails seeking comment.