- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 7, 2006

ANKARA, Turkey

A Turkish Internet celebrity is so sure he was the inspiration for Sacha Baron Cohen’s “Borat” character that he’s traveling to London seeking an apology and a way to get paid from the film’s surprise success.

Mahir Cagri, 44, became a cyber-celebrity after posting a personal Web site in 1999 featuring unintentionally amusing photos of himself playing pingpong or the accordion and sunbathing in a skimpy bathing suit. Fans were captivated by his broken English and hilarious invitation to women: “Who is want to come TURKEY I can invitate … She can stay my home.”

“The world knows he is copying Mahir,” Mr. Cagri told Associated Press in a telephone interview from his hometown of Izmir on Monday, minutes before he was to board a plane for Istanbul to appear on a talk show.

“I am not saying this — the world is. I have received so many e-mails from people in the United States who tell me he is imitating me,” Mr. Cagri said.

Mr. Cagri, a free-lance journalist, was scheduled to fly to London yesterday for meetings there with his manager and lawyer to discuss his options and hold interviews with British newspapers. He hopes to receive an “acknowledgment or an apology” from Mr. Cohen.

“The bombshell is going to fall,” he said of his London trip. “[Mr. Cohen] is making money by using me.”

The title character in the movie “Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan” was first developed for “Da Ali G Show” on HBO. The 20th Century Fox movie took in $26.5 million in the U.S. its opening weekend, more than any other film.

On the commentary track to the DVD of “Da Ali G Show,” Mr. Cohen says Borat was influenced by someone he met in southern Russia.

“I can’t remember his name — he was a doctor” Mr. Cohen says. “The moment I met him, I was totally crying. He was a hysterically funny guy, albeit totally unintentionally.”

The character Borat has caused outrage among Kazakhs over the way their nation is being portrayed jokingly.

Mr. Cagri set up his Web site in the hope of making foreign friends and welcoming guests from abroad to his home. The Turk quickly became a celebrity, much to his surprise. Relishing his fame, Mr. Cagri has traveled to Europe and the United States to meet fans on sponsored trips.

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