The Foreign Economic Relations Board (DEİK), the business arm of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan for expanding his Islamist agenda overseas, has faced serious challenges in partnering with foreign business interest groups, Nordic Monitor has learned.
According to an admission by DEİK board member Hasan Cüneyd Zapsu, DEIK’s role was seriously questioned by foreign partners after the business group was taken over by the government on Sept. 10, 2014 in government-backed legislation passed by parliament. DEİK, once an arm of the Turkish Union of Chambers and Commodity Exchanges (TOBB), was placed under the direct control of the Economy Ministry, stripping it of its independent status as nongovernmental business lobbying group.
“This put us in a very difficult position abroad,” Zapsu admitted in a speech to provincial leaders of Erdoğan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). “Our counterpart business councils and business organizations, especially those in Western countries, decided to not continue working with us, saying, ‘You are now a government entity.’ We can’t do anything about it and have to live with this fact,” he added.
Zapsu’s remarks came during an internal consultation meeting between party leaders and provincial chairpersons of the AKP from all 81 Turkish provinces. It was held November 3 and 4, 2018 and was attended by top party management as well as officials from the Turkish Foreign Ministry and the Maarif Foundation.
Not only did DEİK become a government agency, but the power to select its management was handed over to the government. According to the implementing legislation published in the Official Gazette on Sept. 20, 2014, the economy minister was granted broad powers to select and remove the DEİK chairman, determine its budget and decide on how many member institutions DEİK can have. The first order of business for the government was to appoint Ömer Cihad Vardan as the head of DEİK. Vardan was previously chairman of Islamist business group the Independent Industrialists and Businessmen’s Association (MÜSİAD). The current chairman of DEİK, Nail Olpak, also served as the head of MÜSİAD in the past.
The Erdoğan government also increased the number of member institutions of DEIK from 40 to 99 in the bylaws, paving the way for Islamist groups to join the group. It is up to the economy minister to increase or decrease this number by adding and removing institutions as he sees fit. The minister has the right to convene a DEİK general assembly for an emergency meeting as well. The business group is firmly anchored to the office President Erdoğan.
DEİK was established in 1986 by the order of then-Prime Minister Turgut Özal, a liberal economy politician, to allow private business to drive investment, trade and export. It was designed to operate under private sector leadership and out of government hands in order to bypass the slow-moving state bureaucracy. In other words, with its sweeping changes, the Erdoğan government rolled back the achievements Turkey had made in privatizing the economy.
The Turkey-US Business Council (TAIK) is the American arm of DEİK, which has been promoting Erdoğan’s interests in recent years rather than the business interests of Turkey. TAIK is currently chaired by Mehmet Ali Yalçındağ, a mole Erdoğan had used while Yalçındağ was leading one of Turkey’s largest media groups, Doğan Media. Emails leaked on social media in 2016 by the leftist RedHack group revealed how Yalçındağ was secretly working with Erdogan’s son-in-law and Turkish minister Berat Albayrak, and was changing the editorial line of Doğan Media, which included the Hürriyet newspaper, broadcaster CNN Türk and mainstream television channel Kanal D, to favor Erdoğan’s policies. The media group was later sold to Yildirim Demirören, another supporter of the Erdoğan regime.
Yalçındağ was rewarded for his loyalty to Erdoğan and became the head of TAIK in the US. He was also named chairman of the Presidential Board for Science, Technology and Innovation in Turkey. Zapsu, who is a member of the board of the TAIK, also leads the Florida Committee of TAIK. His budget is approved by the Turkish government, and he and others at TAIK need the government’s approval for any initiative they plan to undertake. In his speech Zapsu was complaining about the slow and cumbersome Turkish bureaucracy and the long delays in getting approval from the Turkish government.
Zapsu, a close ally and confidante of Erdogan, is a controversial figure. He was among the founders of the ruling AKP. His alleged links to Yasin Al Qadi, a Saudi businessman who was once listed, in October 2001, as a “Specially Designated Global Terrorist” by the US Treasury and later by the United Nations, were widely reported. Al Qadi’s businesses in Turkey were reportedly handed over to Zapsu and his brother.Al Qadi was alleged to have financed Osama bin Laden, Hamas and other terrorist groups by funneling funds through “charities” and business fronts, according to a Forbes article in January 2008.
In addition to Yalçındağ and Zapsu, the following businesspeople are DEIK board members, and they help support the Erdoğan regime by promoting his agenda in other countries under business schemes in exchange for continuing to benefit from preferential treatment in the Turkish market, enriching themselves and expanding their business interests.
DEIK board members: Abdurrahman Kaan, the head of MÜSİAD and the Kaanlar Group; Ahmet Çalık of Çalık Holding; Ahmet Erdem of Shell & Turcas Petrol; Ahmet Nazif Zorlu of Zorlu Holding; Ali Kibar of Kibar Holding; Ali Y. Koç of Koç Holding, Baran Çelik of Beyçelik; Berna Gözbaşı of Brn Yatak; Cemal Kalyoncu of the Kalyon Group of Companies; Ebru Özdemir of Limak Construction; Ethem Sancak of BMC Otomotiv; Ferit F. Şahenk of Doğuş Holding; Firuz Bağlıkaya of Detur; Fuat Tosyalı of Tosyalı Holding; Güler Sabancı of Sabancı Holding; İbrahim Burkay, chairman of the Bursa Chamber of Commerce and Industry; İsmail Gülle, the head of Turkey’s Exporters’ Union, TİM; M. Rifat Hisarciklioğlu, chairman of TOBB; Mahsum Altunkaya of the Altunkaya Group of Companies; Mehmet Ali Aydınlar of the Acıbadem Hospitals Network; Mithat Yenigün of Yenigün Construction; Murat Ülker of Yıldız Holding; Ömer Çetin Nuhoğlu of Tırsan Treyler; Rona Yırcalı of Yırcalı Holding; Steven Young of Bosch; Şekib Avdagiç, chairman of the Istanbul Chamber of Commerce; Talip Murat Kolbaşı of Arzum; Tuncay Özilhan of Anadolu Holding; Ümit Kiler of Kiler Holding; Ümit Leblebici of Türk Ekonomi Bank; Yaşar Doğan, chairman of the All Industrialists and Businessmen’s Association (TÜMSİAD); and Zeynep Bodur Okyay of Kaleseramik.