The Turkish Embassy in Chile has developed assets within the Socialist Party of Chile to spy on critics of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, documents obtained by Nordic Monitor have revealed.
According the official correspondence sent by the embassy in Santiago to headquarters in Ankara, Turkish diplomats have tapped some members of the National Congress from the Socialist Party of Chile (Partido Socialista de Chile, or PS) to gather information on critics living in Chile. The document did not mention the names of the PDS members but referred to them in the plural, meaning that more than one reported to the Turkish Embassy.
The campaign of intelligence gathering and profiling of critics and their organizations by the Turkish Embassy in Santiago follows a similar pattern seen in other diplomatic missions Turkey maintains in foreign countries. The move, which is unprecedented in scale and intensity, created an uproar in many parts of the world, including Europe, where Turkish diplomats came under increased scrutiny. In one extreme case, Swiss prosecutors launched a criminal probe and issued arrest warrants for two Turkish Embassy officials for attempting to kidnap a Swiss-Turkish businessman who was critical of Erdoğan’s repressive Islamist regime in Turkey.
Although the document did not list the names of the Chilean legislators who spoke to Turkish diplomats, it said they were members of the parliamentary friendship group, which narrows the potential candidates in the asset pool developed by the embassy. According to the Turkish ambassador’s account, the PS members allegedly reported on the activities of La Fundación Catarata de la Amistad y Educación Chileno Turca, an educational and cultural foundation that was established in 2005 by volunteers affiliated with the Gülen movement, a major critic of the Erdoğan regime.
The Turkish Embassy note states PS members told embassy officials about La Fundación Catarata’s outreach to members of the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate as part of a program to help people who were severely affected by mudflows in northern Chile in 2015. The humanitarian assistance proposal was described in the Turkish ambassador’s report as if it were a nefarious attempt. Flash floods from overflowing rivers due to unseasonably heavy rains in the area caused devastating damage in several towns in the Antofagasta, Atacama and Coquimbo regions, and volunteers from La Fundación Catarata wanted to help out.
Apart from the contacts with legislators, the embassy also gathered its own intelligence on the Chilean foundation and described its activities such as interfaith dialogue and courses on dancing, art and Turkish cuisine as if they were criminal activities in the information note dispatched to Turkey. Lectures in cooperation with Chilean universities and Turkish language courses were also reported.
A review of La Fundación Catarata suggests the organization has been active in the community, sponsors interfaith and intercultural programs and helps people in need. The volunteers at La Fundación Catarata had in the past worked with members of parliament, government officials, educational institutions and nongovernmental organizations to contribute to the well being of Chilean society. In 2015 Rodrigo Delgado, the mayor of Estación Central, a working-class district of Santiago, attended a foundation event as keynote speaker.
The government of President Erdoğan has come under intense scrutiny in recent years over rights violations and the jailing of political opposition members, human rights defenders, journalists and representatives of civil society organizations. The Turkish president turned against the Gülen movement after major corruption investigations in December 2013 that incriminated Erdoğan, his family members, his business and political associates.
A month later, in January 2014, an exposé of illegal arms shipments by Turkish intelligence to jihadists in Syria in 2014 created further troubles for the Erdoğan government for covertly fueling a civil war in neighboring Syria. Fethullah Gulen, a US-based Muslim cleric, has become a vocal critic of Erdoğan for pervasive corruption in the government and the Turkish regime’s clandestine support for armed jihadist groups including the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and al-Qaeda.
The order to spy on Gülen-affliated people and organizations came in early 2014, and volunteers of the movement were targeted with criminal prosecutions on fabricated charges of terrorism. In July 2016 Erdoğan staged a false flag coup to set up the opposition, including the movement, for mass persecution, pushed the army to invade northern Syria and declared himself the imperial president of the new Turkey.
The Turkish Embassy note, transmitted to Turkey from Santiago, was drafted in 2016 although there were other cables that profiled critics in the past as well. These documents were later sent to the Turkish police department to build a case against critics of the Erdoğan regime.
The information collected by the embassy was used in a criminal indictment against Turkey’s largest publishing house. Those who were listed in these embassy documents were often targeted by a campaign of intimidation and harassment and denied consular services abroad while their relatives and friends back in Turkey risked the possibility of jail time, asset seizure and persecution on fabricated criminal charges.
The collection of data, amounting to refugee spying or unlawful intelligence gathering by embassy and consulate officials, was carried out after requests from the Anti-Smuggling and Organized Crime Department of the Turkish National Police (Kaçakçılık ve Organize Suçlarla Mücadele Daire Başkanlığı, or KOM). According to Turkish law KOM has no jurisdiction abroad and is not authorized to conduct espionage overseas. The information notes sent by the embassy were later incorporated into a report by KOM on Jan. 30, 2017 and were used in the criminal prosecution of government critics on terrorism charges.
The report that included Foreign Ministry intelligence documents was used in several indictments in what was seen as a blatant abuse of the criminal justice system by the Turkish government as part of the crackdown on critics, opponents and dissidents who had nothing to do with terrorism. Some of the accused were jailed for months and even years in some cases without a formal charge, indictment or trial. It also shows how unlawful information gathering by the Turkish Embassy in Santiago was incorporated in the mass persecution of critics back in Turkey.
For example, the profiling data collected on a Chilean organization by the Turkish Embassy was used as evidence in a case involving Kaynak Holding, a major conglomerate and the largest publisher in Turkey, which was unlawfully seized by the Erdoğan government on fabricated charges of terrorism in November 2015. Kaynak, a group that operated 22 major companies under its umbrella, is owned and operated by businesspeople who are seen as affiliated with the Gülen movement.
A funds transfer in the amount of $6,642 in 2014 between La Fundación Catarata and Kaynak holding in 2014 that was declared by the company in its filings was considered by the Erdoğan government to be criminal evidence. Nordic Monitor’s investigation found that La Fundación Catarata ordered some books including Spanish volumes from Kaynak’s publishing house and made a payment for the order. There was nothing illegal about it as it was recorded on the company’s accounting sheet as part of the business transaction.
Yet a report prepared by Turkey’s Financial Crimes Investigation Board (MASAK), an agency that was often used by the Erdoğan government to investigate critics and their companies on criminal pretexts, listed the legitimate transaction as criminal activity. The report was compiled by MASAK on May 13, 2015 under file No. 2015/MAR (62) after the Ankara Public Prosecutor’s Office tasked the agency with investigating Kaynak on Feb. 2, 2015 as part of case No. 2014/75025.
Hundreds of people and dozens of firms were dragged into the investigation in what was seen as a crackdown on Turkey’s largest publisher and supplier of educational materials. Some 800 authors were victimized when the government cancelled book contracts after the seizure of Kaynak, and millions of textbooks including some on foreign language skills were destroyed by authorities after the takeover.
Among those investigated in this case file was Ekrem Dumanlı, the former editor-in-chief of Zaman, Turkey’s largest national newspaper that was unlawfully seized by the government in March 2016 as part of a crackdown on the critical media. Dumanlı has been forced to live in exile along with 150 other journalists who had to flee to avoid wrongful imprisonment.
The Erdoğan government brands all of its critics as terrorists, and 235 journalists are currently locked up in Turkish jails on terrorism charges, making Turkey the world’s leading jailer of journalists. Over 30 percent of all Turkish diplomats, 60 percent of all senior police chiefs, half of all military generals and some 30 percent of all judges and prosecutors in Turkey were also declared terrorists overnight by the executive decisions of the Erdoğan government without any effective administrative investigations and certainly without any judicial proceedings.
In July 2017 German newspaper Die Zeit reported that Turkey had handed Germany a list of 68 companies and individuals suspected of links to terrorism due to alleged ties to the Gülen movement. It was also revealed that nearly 700 German firms including industry giants Daimler and BASF were being investigated for the “financing of terrorism,” lodged with Interpol by Turkey. After Germany reacted strongly to the witch-hunt and threatened economic sanctions, Turkey backed down and claimed that it was simply a miscommunication.
Nordic Monitor previously published a report disclosing how Turkish embassies and consular officials engaged in spying on government critics in 92 foreign countries as part of profiling and espionage activities that at times amounted to a systematic and deliberate campaign of refugee spying. The document found in papers released by the Ankara 4th High Criminal Court on Jan. 16, 2019 in case No. 2016/238 indicated that the Turkish Foreign Ministry had compiled a long list of foreign entities that were owned and/or operated by people who were seen as close to the movement.