Plundering the assets and properties of critics of Turkey’s autocratic regime has become so blatant that not even a court order is sought to carry it out, a secret document obtained by Nordic Monitor has revealed.
A formal notice from the Anti-Smuggling and Organized Crime Department (KOM) ordered its branches across Turkey to discretely carry out inspections of hospitals, private schools, student dormitories, foundations, associations, unions, federations and confederations that were affiliated with the Gülen movement, a civic group that is critical of the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
The secret note emphasized that the police must expand their criminal probes of entities seen as affiliated with the movement even if they were not on a government list that announced the closure and seizure of Gülen-linked associations, unions and other entities. After completing the inspections, the results were to immediately be shared with the relevant ministries through governor’s offices, it said, adding that the KOM branches were to continue the procedures of closing down these institutions and companies.
The notice was sent a week after a failed coup on July 15, 2016 by Orhan Özdemir, the Security General Directorate’s KOM Bureau head. He stressed the necessity of taking extrajudicial measures under a state of emergency in effect at the time, particularly citing the second and third paragraphs of the second article of decree law No: 667. The relevant paragraphs ordered the transfer of all movables, real estate, assets, receivables and rights and all documents and papers of closed foundations, institutions and companies to the General Directorate of Foundations, the Treasury and the Land Registry, wherever relevant, at no cost. The third paragraph envisaged the closure of any institution thought to pose a threat to national security and that any institution found to be connected to or associated with the movement be closed down.
Özdemir said the members of the Gülen movement, which he branded as terrorists, were living comfortable lives in Turkey or abroad because of the wealth they possessed. The officer claimed that these people were either hiding in Turkey or had fled abroad and that they were able to hire lawyers thanks to this wealth, as if having a lawyer was a deniable luxury.
The two-page secret document by the Turkish police ordering the seizure of assets of critics:seizure_order1
He went on to state that some of these people were transferring their properties to third persons to ensure that the state could not easily confiscate them. Aside from the fact that the transfer of property by the owner to anyone he or she chooses is not a crime, Özdemir was accusing these people of trying to protect their private properties from an arbitrary and unlawful plunder by the state. He proposed a solution: swiftly confiscate them without awaiting a court order and then apply to a court to legalize the action. He stated Article 17 of Law No: 5549 Regarding the Prevention of Laundering Proceeds of a Crime as the legal basis for this action.
The aforementioned article notes: “In cases where there is strong suspicion that the offenses of money laundering and financing of terrorism are committed, the assets may be seized in accordance with the procedure stipulated in Article 128 of Code of Criminal Procedure Law No. 5271. The public prosecutor may also make seizure decisions in urgent cases. A seizure carried out without a judicial decision shall be submitted for the approval of a judge on duty within 24 hours at the latest. The judge shall decide whether it will be approved or not in 24 hours at the latest. The decision of the public prosecutor’s office shall be invalid in the event of non-approval.”
The article cited by Özdemir was nevertheless not applicable as a legal basis for his order. First, it was confined to money laundering or the financing of terrorism, whereas he was ordering the confiscation of private properties legally acquired by individuals about whom there was no court order, just based on suspicion. Second, the article clearly states that a confiscation decision can only be given by a court, and only if there is a strong possibility that it may be too late if the arrival of a court order is awaited can a prosecutor impose a provisional seizure that must be taken to a court for review within the course of a day. However, in the official notice Özdemir dispatched, seizure and confiscation decisions involved neither court orders nor prosecutor involvement. A third aspect was that judges almost never ruled against a temporary seizure order on one’s properties once that person is accused of having ties to the Gülen movement.
A petition submitted to the Afyonkarahisar 2nd High Criminal Court by a person named Mahmut Dalkılıç whose business was crippled following allegations of membership in the Gülen movement is an example of the serious a damage such a seizure decision on a suspect’s private property can inflict.
The petitioner wrote that he was one of five partners in construction company Skorpen. He said he was being tried on charges of affiliation with the Gülen movement and involvement in terrorism but that the company had nothing to with these charges as he was only one of the partners.
“Between 35 and 50 people were working at my company. But because of the restrictions on me, I had to discharge many of them and now the number of workers has declined to below 20,” Dalkılıç wrote, adding that the company would go bankrupt if the interim seizure were not revoked soon.
Among the hurdles his company encountered following the restrictions, he mentioned a complete inability to do anything at the land registry office, which forms the backbone of his business. “Similarly, I can’t get a checkbook from any bank, nor can I take out a loan. The banks’ perspective on us has changed. They even cancelled my credit cards,” he wrote. As seen in the petition, Dalkılıç’s case was deferred to a later date, which the complainant said would only exacerbate the company’s problems and cause it to result in a total collapse.
According to official figures, 885 private companies, valued at close to TL 60 billion ($10.5 billion), have been transferred to the government since 2016, in addition to the seizure of 123 companies’ shares and the properties of 108 individuals. In March 2019 president of the state-run Savings Deposit Insurance Fund (TMSF) Muhiddin Gülal announced that the Turkish government had appointed trustees to 932 companies valued at a total of TL 57.9 billion over their alleged links to the Gülen movement. Gülal said shareholder equity in the companies was TL 21.2 billion and turnover TL 31.7 billion, while their assets were valued at TL 57.9 billion. The TMSF president said a total of 44,306 people worked for these companies.
President Erdoğan declared a war against the Gülen movement in the aftermath of corruption investigations in 2013 when he, his family members and his business and political associates were incriminated in a major graft case that involved an Iranian sanctions buster and a Saudi al-Qaeda financier. Erdoğan managed to hush up the case by removing the prosecutors and police investigators. In an attempt to shift the blame, he called the graft probes a coup against his government and accused Fethullah Gülen, a US-based Turkish Muslim scholar, as the man behind it. Gülen strongly denied having any role in the investigations.
The crackdown on Gülen and his movement intensified in the aftermath of the July 15 coup attempt, which many believe was a false flag orchestrated by Erdoğan himself to set up the opposition for mass persecution. Erdoğan has adopted harsh measures to apply tremendous pressure on members of the movement by purging them from government service and denying them jobs in the private sector. Measures to remove the members of the movement from social life entirely included the usurpation of their properties to register them as revenue to the state Treasury. In some cases, these properties were given to persons or institutions close to Erdoğan. Despite allegations, the Gülen movement, which had for decades promoted peace, education and interfaith dialogue around the world, denied Erdoğan’s accusations, and the government has so far failed to present evidence implicating Gülen as the man behind the putschist attempt. Gülen, who lives in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania, denounced the coup and said if anyone from the movement participated in the attempt, they had never actually grasped the teachings he had been preaching his entire life.