Mustafa Doğan İnal, a fixer who works closely with Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and has ties to a Turkish al-Qaeda group, has been identified by Nordic Monitor as the key operative manipulating high-profile cases in Turkey.
It appears the Turkish judiciary takes its cues from this man and his team, which serve as a compass in politically motivated cases, especially those in which Erdoğan takes a special interest, such as defamation, the silencing of the critical media and corruption cases. He is well connected to Erdoğan’s office, family and business associates and has cultivated very close ties with senior figures in the Turkish judiciary, well beyond the limits of professional relationships.
İnal is a lawyer by profession and represents Erdoğan in many cases, but his actions, difficult to justify in legal terms, speak volumes. He is often seen in the company of Erdoğan’s circle of friends and family members. Appearing as a speaker at an event sponsored by controversial religious foundation Ensar that was held in the Mediterranean resort city of Antalya between Nov. 30 and Dec. 2, 2018, he was seen with Erdoğan’s son Necmettin Bilal Erdoğan, Erdoğan’s chief fatwa giver Hayrettin Karaman and Industry Minister Mustafa Varank, a former aide to Erdoğan. He often appears on TV, defending the government narrative while making money from business interests that range from real estate to energy.
If one thing is certain, İnal is a hard-core Islamist and boasts about being an avid fan of Sayyed Qutb, the Muslim Brotherhood ideologue who inspired radicalization and jihadism. Judging from his messages on Twitter, İnal projects the image of himself as a staunchly anti-American figure. He describes the US as a bandit and accuses the United States of being the real mastermind behind all things bad that happen in the world and in Turkey.
In addition to representing Erdoğan and his family members as a lawyer, İnal also represented Turkish and Saudi nationals who were accused of al-Qaeda links and helped them evade serious charges. For example, he was the lawyer for controversial Saudi businessman Yasin Al-Qadi, a close friend of Erdoğan who for years was listed as an al-Qaeda financier by both the UN Security Council sanction committee and the US Treasury.
With political backing from the government, İnal orchestrated the acquittal of all 52 suspects in the case of Tahşiyeciler, an al-Qaeda-linked radical Turkish group led by Mehmet Doğan (aka Mullah Muhammed), who openly declared his admiration for Osama bin Laden and called for armed jihad in Turkey. Erdoğan vigorously defended this indicted cleric, helped him get acquitted with his loyalist judges and prosecutors when he was arrested and tried; jailed journalists who criticized his radical group; and even launched a civil suit in the US against Muslim scholar Fethullah Gülen for defaming this fanatic. The legal scheme for all of this was managed by İnal and his team.
İnal appeared on pro-government TV networks trying to portray Tahşiyeciler members as victims of defamation, although intelligence, military and law enforcement agencies had flagged the group in early 2000 as dangerous and supportive of al-Qaeda. Turkey first learned about Doğan and Tahşiyeciler on Jan. 22, 2010, when police raided the homes and offices of dozens of people across Turkey as part of an anti-al-Qaeda sweep. The police discovered three hand grenades, one smoke bomb, seven handguns, 18 hunting rifles, electronic parts for explosives, knives and a large cache of ammunition in the homes of the suspects.
The probe revealed that the terrorist group had sent close to 100 people to Afghanistan for arms training. In seized tape recordings, Doğan was heard calling for violent jihad: “I’m telling you to take up your guns and kill them.” He also asked his followers to build bombs and mortars in their homes, urged the decapitating of Americans, claiming that the religion allows such practices. “If the sword is not used, then this is not Islam,” he stated. According to Doğan, all Muslims were obligated to respond to then-al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden’s armed fight.
İnal’s name also came up during trial proceedings in a US federal case in New York Turkish state bank official Mehmet Hakan Atilla was convicted in 2018 and sentenced to 32 months in prison for his participation in a scheme to violate US sanctions on Iran that involved billions of dollars in oil proceeds. Turkish-Iranian national Reza Zarrab, who had bribed Turkish ministers to set up the scheme to bypass sanctions, testified in court that İnal was his personal lawyer in 2014 after he was released from prison with the help of Erdoğan.
Zarrab was the key suspect in a December 2013 graft probe that incriminated Erdoğan, his family members and his associates. Erdoğan intervened in the case and reassigned the prosecutors and police chiefs who were investigating the corruption scheme. The case was hushed up and Zarrab was released, and the go-between for him and Erdoğan was no other than İnal himself. Zarrab was arrested by the FBI in Miami in March 2016 and later turned into a government witness following a plea bargain with federal prosecutors. In a hearing held on Dec. 6, 2017 Zarrab was presented with evidence that showed his messages with İnal in June 2014 and was asked to provide an explanation. He said, “These are some messages I had exchanged with my lawyer, who had political connections.”
It turns out Zarrab wanted to resume the sanctions-busting regime using Turkish banks and companies and was talking with İnal on how to set this up. Erdoğan’s son-in-law Berat Albayrak, who is now finance minister, said the scheme must continue, and Erdoğan gave his approval for the sanctions violations and ordered officials in the state bank to make it happen. In other words, Erdoğan through his lawyer İnal wanted to continue conspiring to use the US financial system to conduct transactions on behalf of the government of Iran and other Iranian entities and to defraud US financial institutions by concealing the true nature of the transactions.
Apparently benefiting from his connections to Erdoğan, İnal has set up new firms and bought shares in other companies to pursue business interests in the energy and real estate sectors, two leading industries in which pro-government cronies make a huge amount of money in Turkey by means of political connections and kickback schemes. He and his colleague Ahmet Özel, also one of Erdoğan’s lawyers, set up consulting firm Lexist Danişmanlik Hizmetleri A.Ş. in Istanbul’s Beşiktaş district on Jan. 19, 2016 with a million lira in capital. They chose Tevfik Gunal to manage the company while they remained equal shareholders who control the board.
İnal is chairman of the board of directors of another company called MYZ Gayrimenkul İnşaat Yatirim Sanayi Ve Ticaret A.Ş., a real estate, construction, investment and trading firm that was established on Oct. 6, 2017 in Istanbul. The other partners are Ali Yilmaz and Murat Tasci. İnal came into the company after the founder, Hamit Maden, left the firm on July 30, 2018, leaving his seat to İnal. On Nov. 30, 2018 İnal was elected to the position of chairman of the board of directors according to trade registry data.
Erdoğan’s attorney also has managing shares in an energy firm called Orkun 2 Enerji Üretim Danişmanlik Sanayi Ve Ticaret A.Ş. He and his partners set up three more energy firms under the same name but with different numbers: Orkun 3, Orkun 4 and Orkun 5. The description in their registry says the firms aim to do business in the renewable energy industry, which is subsidized and licensed by the Erdoğan government. His partners are Ali Yilmaz and Murat Tasci of the real estate firm MYZ Gayrimenkul.
Erdoğan uses İnal and his associates not only as fixers to resolve his problems but also as attack dogs to intimidate opponents. For example, last year İnal represented Erdoğan and his family members in a defamation case that was launched against main opposition leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, who in parliament raised credible allegations of multi-million dollar offshore banking transactions by Erdoğan’s relatives. In multiple lawsuits filed on behalf of Erdoğan and his family members, İnal managed to secure judgements from the partisan judiciary that fined the opposition leader 698,000 Turkish lira.
When courthouse reporter Metin Arslan exposed İnal for what he was in a headline story in the Bugün daily in 2015, publishing details of his ties to both the al-Qaeda-linked Tahşiyeciler group and Yasin al-Qadi, İnal used his prosecutor friends in the judiciary to launch a criminal case against the reporter. İstanbul public prosecutor Umut Tepe, who wrote the indictment against journalist Arslan, stated that Arslan’s reports cannot be deemed to be within the scope of press freedom. According to the indictment, Arslan “overstepped his bounds” by creating the perception that the plaintiff, al-Qadi, had links to a terrorist organization, that Arslan humiliated a “businessman” and was overcritical of him in his reports.
Tepe was promoted to İstanbul deputy chief prosecutor shortly after the investigation was launched against Arslan, who remained in jail for 14 months, from May 2017 to August 2018. Prosecutor Tepe is an Erdoğan loyalist who had Turkey’s shuttered English-language daily Today’s Zaman Editor-in-Chief Bülent Keneş arrested in October 2015 on charges of “insulting” President Erdoğan in a series of tweets that the journalist said were simply expressing a critical opinion. Tepe also issued a detention warrant against main opposition leader Kılıçdaroğlu even though Kılıçdaroğlu had parliamentary immunity from any criminal prosecution. The warrant was withdrawn after a strong reaction from the opposition.
Another scandalous case where İnal played a crucial role in orchestrating a fabricated criminal investigation in order to silence Turkey’s one-time largest national daily Zaman took place in 2014. Zaman, with some 1.2 million subscribers at its peak, was highly critical of the Turkish government, publishing information from the corruption investigation file that incriminated Erdoğan, his family members and his business and political associates.
Nordic Monitor has learned from a confidential Turkish source that İnal conspired with Istanbul Deputy Chief Public Prosecutor Mehmet Akif Ekinci to orchestrate the detention of Ekrem Dumanli, the editor-in-chief of Zaman, and Hidayet Karaca, the general manager of critical TV network Samanyolu on Dec. 14, 2014. Dumanli was released after a brief detention and had to flee abroad for safety, while Karaca has been jailed since then on charges that both the Zaman daily and the Samanyolu network defamed Turkish al-Qaeda group Tahşiyeciler in articles and TV series dating back five years. It’s not surprising that İnal, defending the al-Qaeda suspects, helped Akinci build a false case against the journalists. The same case was used by the government to seize Zaman in March 2016, and both media outlets were shut down in July of the same year. Ekinci was rewarded for going after journalists critical of Erdoğan when he was appointed by the president to serve on Turkey’s judicial council, the Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSK), a key body that decides on promotions, assignments and disciplinary actions for judges and prosecutors.
Last but not least, İnal, a man who played a key role in orchestrating legal moves to intimidate journalists and kill media outlets in Turkey, ironically represents the Erdoğan government in international arbitration cases that were launched by victimized investors who lost their assets when the government unlawfully took over media outlets. In 2015 the Erdoğan government seized Turkey’s third largest media outlet, Ipek media, which owned two dailies, two TV networks and one radio station. In 2016 it seized Cihan Media Distribution (CMD), the only home delivery service firm that distributed critical dailies such as Zaman and Bugün.
İnal’s counselling firm Lexist Danişmanlik Hizmetleri A.Ş is listed in the claim at the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID), the World Bank arm for investor-state dispute arbitration, as representing Turkey against claimant Belgian Cascade Investments NV, the owner of majority shares in CMD. The claim was filed against Turkey on February 28, 2018, accusing the Erdoğan government of causing the company to incur major losses over its unlawful takeover. Similarly, Ipek Investment Ltd, a British firm, also lodged a claim against Turkey for the Erdoğan government’s takeover of the Ipek media outlet as well as two dozen other companies in the same business group owned by businessman Akin Ipek and his family. The claim was filed on May 29, 2018. Both cases are pending. British firm King & Spalding International was registered along with İnal’s counselling firm Lexist as representing Turkish government interests.
With a judiciary that is subordinated to Erdogan and with the political muscle of the government behind him, İnal has succeeded in getting what he wanted including the freeing of the al-Qaeda suspects and an Iranian sanctions buster in Turkey. It remains to be seen how he can pull it off in international legal and arbitration mechanisms where solid evidence, the rule of law and legal principles determine the outcome rather than political considerations. If the Turkish judicial system worked the way that in the US does, we would most likely see İnal meet his fate, just like Michael Cohen, US President Donald Trump’s longtime personal fixer who was sentenced to three years in prison for covering up Trump’s dirty deeds.