How Swiss authorities foiled a Turkish intelligence plot to abduct Erdoğan critic

 

Swiss counter-espionage investigators caught agents of the Turkish National Intelligence Organization (MİT) in the act as they were planning to abduct a Swiss-Turkish businessman who was critical of the government of Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

According to the plan, the details of which were obtained by Nordic Monitor, two Turkish diplomats, identified as Hacı Mehmet Gani, working under cover as press attaché, a position that is currently attached to Erdoğan’s Communications Office, and Hakan Kamil Yerge, second secretary at the Turkish Embassy in Bern, plotted to drug and kidnap the businessman.

For reasons of safety, Nordic Monitor is not releasing the identity of the victim, who spoke on condition that his name not be used. He remains under police protection.

MİT planned the abduction in the summer of 2016 during which time the Turkish government launched a major witch hunt against critics and dissidents, with the Gülen movement bearing the brunt of the persecution. The victim, who has been living in Switzerland for nearly 30 years, was seen as close to the movement, led by US-based Turkish Muslim scholar Fethullah Gülen, a vocal critic of the Erdoğan regime.

The MİT operatives met secretly in a cemetery and in front of a garage, unaware of being photographed and recorded by the Swiss Intelligence Service (SRC), after they put their plot into motion. SRC, which was surveilling the operatives and tracking their movements, recorded two MİT agents arriving earlier to scout out the area to ensure security before the meeting of other two agents took place. The suspects also met at an auto showroom near Zurich.

The man who was used by MİT as an intelligence asset to gain access to the targeted businessman was a Turkish national who was buried in personal debt. MİT spotted him as a possible collaborator and offered him cash to ease his debts and a privileged pension package in Turkey. The collaborator had previously worked closely with the businessman.

The collaborator was turned into an intelligence asset by Gani, the press attaché, who knew him before the plot was devised and who approached him directly and offered him cash, reportedly 300,000 euros. The collaborator was asked to put a drug in the food of his former boss to knock him out. The plan was working until the collaborator pulled out at the last minute, fearing that he would be in trouble if he were to proceed as instructed by MİT. “Before the scandal became public knowledge in March 2018, he [the collaborator] admitted to me that he had had talks with [MİT] agents, but I realized that he, in fact, spoke very little of it after the prosecutor showed me the evidence in the case,” the businessman told Nordic Monitor.

The collaborator was questioned several times by a Swiss prosecutor, who had launched a criminal probe in March 2017, and is now cooperating with Swiss authorities.

“I told him to only tell the truth to the authorities. I said, ‘They [Swiss intelligence and police] have recorded your every move and every minute of your meetings. Don’t risk your future by perjuring yourself’,” the businessman told Nordic Monitor of his advice to the collaborator.

Asked what evidence the prosecutor had shared with him, the businessman explained that he saw the surveillance photographs of the secret meetings and pictures of the suspects. He recalled one photo that showed the agents passing a vial to the collaborator. The “knock-out” drug they intended to use was GHB, commonly known as the date rape drug. The businessman said the MİT agents planned to drug him but did not want him to completely lose consciousness. “They wanted to turn me into sort of a zombie. I would appear to be physically OK but readily complying with their instructions,” said the businessman.

Swiss Intelligence was reportedly surprised when they learned that GHB would be used in the scheme since Turkish intelligence has more sophisticated chemical agents at their disposal to do this type of work.

The businessman said he was not personally shaken by the revelations but that his family was badly impacted by the story. “I am a common man, nobody special. When I learned I had become a MİT target and was at risk of being kidnapped, I did not want my family to learn of it for fear of their well-being. But it was impossible to keep it under wraps when police officers came to our home to take safety precautions and advised me and my family what to do in case of an emergency.”

The businessman is still under the protection of the Swiss police and was provided with a GPS tracker and an emergency button to call for help. He once pushed the button accidentally, and a rapid deployment squad was on its way in minutes. “I ‘tested’ it, and it really works,” he said, smiling.

The question of why he was targeted in the first place remains unanswered. “I keep asking that, too,” he said. “So does the prosecutor. So does my family,” he added. “I have been involved with the Gülen community since childhood. That’s not a secret, everybody knows about it. That’s all. I have no idea what I know that MİT does not really know. My case perhaps shows how MİT is run by unskilled and incompetent people and hatches plots based on rumors.”

The businessman believes the news media played a crucial role in exposing the plot to the public and keeping it alive in the public discussion. “Bureaucrats and politicians have different priorities. When my case became public knowledge, it helped develop a sense of accountability and responsibility for everyone involved,” he emphasized.

When the Swiss Tages-Anzeiger daily in March 2018 broke the story about the kidnapping plot and ongoing year-old investigation into the MİT agents in Switzerland, Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hami Aksoy denied the allegations in a written statement posted on the ministry’s website on March 16, 2018. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu on the same day refused to answer a Kazakh journalist’s question as to what he thought about Swiss authorities seeking removal of the diplomatic immunity of the two Turkish diplomats, during a press conference in Astana. Çavuşoğlu accused the journalist of being a member of the Gülen movement.

Hacı Mehmet Gani

On June 19, 2018, the Office of the Attorney General of Switzerland issued arrest warrants for the two Turkish diplomats for allegedly planning to kidnap a Turkish-Swiss businessman. However, Second Secretary Yerge, who was the chief intelligence officer at the embassy, left Switzerland in November 2016, whereas Gani remained until August 2017.

Gani had attracted attention in 2013 when he was appointed press attaché at the Turkish Embassy in Bern. It raised questions as to how a civil servant who could not speak any of the languages spoken in Switzerland was appointed as a press officer. Moreover, it was revealed that his monthly salary was $12,000, while the ambassador was paid only around $8,000. What is more interesting was that the government allocated him a private translator who would be paid around $3,000. His wife was also appointed to the embassy as an officer for religious affairs.

The Turkish government does not appear to be backing away from abductions abroad. In fact, a senior Turkish diplomat recently vowed in Switzerland that the Erdoğan government would continue to go after regime critics beyond Turkish borders. On November 27, 2018, Deputy Foreign Minister Yavuz Selim Kıran was in Switzerland to attend a conference on Afghanistan at the UN office in Geneva and had a private meeting with Erdoğan supporters in the Swiss city of Lausanne. He said at the gathering that the Turkish government would go after members of the Gülen movement wherever they are in the world and bragged about how more than 100 Gülen members had been whisked away from foreign soil and brought back to Turkey.

 

Deputy Foreign Minister of Turkey Yavuz Selim Kıran

 

Among the attendees of the meeting were Murat Şahin, head of the UETD, the proxy group of Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) in Europe; Turkish Ambassador to Switzerland İlhan Saygılı; Turkish Ambassador to the World Trade Organization Kemal Madenoğlu; Beliz Celasin Rende, deputy chief of mission of Turkey’s Permanent Representative Office at UN Geneva; Memet Sait Uyanık, consul general in Geneva; and Asiye Nuran İpekçi, consul general in Zurich.

The latest casualty of this global witch hunt carried out by the Erdoğan regime is Mehmet Gelen, a Turkish schoolteacher in Azerbaijan who was reportedly abducted on December 29, 2018 by Turkish intelligence agents in Baku after being released by a local prosecutor. He was taken to Turkey within hours.

The entrance to the headquarters of MIT, Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization, in Ankara.

On March 29, 2018 MİT abducted six Turkish nationals linked to the Gülen movement from Kosovo. The incident sent shockwaves around the world and in Kosovo, where the prime minister, Ramush Haradinaj, who said he was unaware of the rendering of the Turkish nationals to Turkey, fired the country’s interior minister and head of the intelligence service for failing to inform him about the arrest of the Turks.

US media last year reported that Fethullah Gülen, who has lived in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania since 1999, was the subject of a potential bargain between former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn and top Turkish officials. An alleged plan that involved Flynn forcibly and illegally removing Gülen in return for millions of dollars is being investigated by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, The Wall Street Journal reported on Nov. 10, 2017. Michael Flynn and his son, Michael Flynn Jr., were to be paid as much as $15 million to hand Gülen over to the Turkish government under the alleged proposal, according to people with knowledge of discussions Flynn had with Turkish representatives during a reported meeting in December at the 21 Club in New York City.

 

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