Erdoğan put a party defector under surveillance, jailed him on false charges

Ilhan Isbilen


A former Turkish lawmaker was put under surveillance and his phone wiretapped after he resigned from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) in protest of corruption in the Erdoğan government, secret documents reveal. 


İlhan İşbilen, a wealthy businessman who was invited to join the AKP by Erdoğan personally and subsequently became a lawmaker, was monitored closely on fabricated accusations of terrorism after he quit the party. The move was seen as part of a campaign of intimidation conducted by Erdoğan to dissuade possible defectors and suppress internal divisions within his party. Documents obtained by Nordic Monitor show that he and his family were regularly monitored, photographed and video recorded secretly by police units. The documents also include a transcript of his phone conversations, indicating that his phone was wiretapped.    


Nothing incriminating was found in either İşbilen’s phone conversations or his movements around the city of Istanbul, sometimes by car and sometimes on his boat on the Bosporus. The secret investigation was launched as part of case file No. 2014/75025 on coup plotting charges, meaning that a coup was being probed in 2014 as well, two years before a failed military coup in Turkey in July 2016. The surveillance coincides with İşbilen’s resignation from the party over differences with Erdoğan in February 2014. When announcing his resignation, İşbilen accused the government at a press conference of putting a bugging device in his house and imposing undue pressure on his wife’s foundation. He knew what Erdoğan was up to at the time and shared it with the public.



The documents confirmed his allegations of bugging and in fact reveal more intrusive surveillance conducted by the Erdogan government. Undercover units were stationed at his house for purposes of surveillance starting in the first week of August 2015 and continued through September and October. According to the documents, he was surveilled for more than four weeks, and detailed reports were prepared about what he had been doing. There may very well be more surveillance reports. A review of reports suggests nothing out of the ordinary in his daily routine, which often consisted of taking a trip from his home to the İstinye Marina in Sarıyer, from where he loved to sail along the Bosporus. 


At times, he was recorded while shopping, running errands, stopping for coffee and visiting a hospital, places of business and a mosque. The still shots from the video recordings were inserted into the reports, scanned in black and white into the investigation file. The wiretap records on his phone uncovered nothing out of the ordinary. He was speaking with an employee about a business matter in one wiretap, while discussing a planned trip to Australia in another phone conversation with former Turkish Minister Ertuğrul Günay, who also resigned from the AKP in protest. 



Th extent of the close surveillance, both physical and wiretapping, confirms the campaign of intimidation Erdoğan conducts against party defectors. These surveillance reports showed no commission of a crime, nevertheless were entered into a case file as evidence against him in a trial in an Ankara court. He has been jailed since Dec. 11, 2015 and was sentenced in June 2018 to aggravated life with no chance of parole on trumped-up charges leveled by the regime. 


With a high-profile industrialist and former lawmaker behind bars, Erdoğan sent a warning to all possible defectors within the party after it was shaken by major corruption investigations revealed in December 2013 that incriminated Erdoğan and his family members, followed by an exposé on illegal arms shipments to radical jihadists in Syria in January 2014.




İşbilen was recruited by the Feza publishing company when the board of directors was looking to restructure the Zaman daily, then an ailing newspaper with low circulation. The shareholders hoped he could inject fresh life into the paper given his background in the journalism department at Ege University. İşbilen had served as general secretary of the journalism school in the 1970s and also managed the advertising, marketing and finance schools while working there.


Transcript of secret wiretap between two lawmakers, Ilhan Isbilen and Ertugrul Gunay, both of whom resigned from the ruling AKP.


The imprisonment of former parliamentarian İşbilen was not enough for the Erdoğan government, which also went after his family members. His wife, Nebahat Evyap İşbilen, a member of a wealthy industrialist family, wanted to withdraw some money from her own account in Istanbul in 2017. Although there was nothing illegal about the transaction and she was not facing any criminal charges at the time, a government agency intervened and the bank refused to release her own funds to her. Later, a Turkish prosecutor in Ankara rushed to secure a warrant from a judge who authorized restrictions on all her accounts in Turkish banks and put a lien on her company shares and real estate so she could not sell or transfer anything. The only payment she was allowed to receive was a pension as a senior citizen.


In June 2018 the Ankara 4th High Criminal Court handed down an aggravated life sentence to İşbilen, who was convicted of attempting a coup despite the fact that he was jailed long before the failed coup took place in Turkey in July 2016.


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