Turkey’s national flag carrier, Turkish Airlines (THY), has violated labor and immigration laws in Sweden by secretly bringing an airline employee from abroad under the guise of a tourist, Nordic Monitor has learned.
According to a credible source who wanted to remain anonymous for reasons of safety, THY moved an employee from a ticketing and sales office in Turkey’s western city of Bodrum to Stockholm Arlanda Airport in July 2018 on a month-long assignment. THY did so without following Sweden’s labor and immigration regulations and in clear violation of aviation security rules for airports.
The assignment, initiated by the THY bureau chief in Stockholm and approved by the THY administration in Turkey in order to meet the high demand in the peak summer season, was kept secret from Swedish authorities. The woman, who was assigned as a sales officer at Stockholm’s main airport, was brought to Sweden as a tourist and her salary was paid by THY headquarters in Istanbul.
She was supposed to declare her intention to work at the THY office on a temporary basis when going through immigration at the airport, but she failed to do so. The THY office in Stockholm was also required to file the proper paperwork with Swedish authorities for her to work legally in Sweden as an interim employee and pay the necessary taxes and fees, according to the source.
What is more, her accommodation and other expenses while she was in Stockholm were covered by the local THY office, with the expenses buried in other budgeting items to avoid raising a red flag with Swedish authorities.
This illegal practice allows THY to save money in terms of wages as well as tax payments considering the very strong labor and union laws in Sweden.
The source also said the practice has been seen in other airports, creating a security gap in the vetting of airport employees, who are subject to rigorous screening procedures for the overall safety of airports. THY’s reshuffling practice drew the attention of authorities abroad and has in several cases become a matter of investigation in Scandinavian countries.
Although in the Arlanda case, the THY employee from Bodrum was assigned to work in a part of the airport that was not secure, meaning she was stationed at a ticketing and sales counter outside the security gate, similar regulations concerning immigration, labor and security still apply. The source also noted that such an employee could very well gain access to secure areas by using her colleagues’ clearances.
THY is run by people close to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his family. The general director of THY is Bilal Ekşi, who is from Rize province, the hometown of the Turkish president. The chairman of the executive board is İlker Aycı, a close friend of Erdoğan’s son Bilal. Aycı, the former vice president of the İstanbul branch of Erdoğan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), was a controversial figure in a December 2013 corruption scandal that implicated government officials and associates. He was involved in a development project in a wealthy part of İstanbul with Saudi businessman Yasin Al-Qadi, once listed as an al-Qaeda financier on both the UN and US sanction lists. The case was hushed up by Erdoğan.
In 2014 a leaked recording of a conversation that took place between an adviser of Erdoğan and an official from THY revealed that Turkey’s national airline and the Turkish government were alleged to have been involved in a transfer of arms to Nigeria. According to the voice recording uploaded onto YouTube, Mehmet Karataş, executive assistant to the chief executive officer of THY, is heard telling Erdoğan adviser Mustafa Varank, now the industry minister, that he feels guilty about the transfer of weapons to Nigeria. Karataş is heard saying in the recording, “I don’t know whether these [weapons] will kill Muslims or Christians.” Varank says he had not had a chance to talk to the head of the National Intelligence Organization (MIT), Hakan Fidan, and would get back to Karataş as soon as he was able to speak to the intel chief. The recording was believed to be yet another piece of evidence of the Erdogan government’s aiding and abetting of armed jihadist groups in other countries including Boko Haram militants in Nigeria.
THY is also facing legal troubles abroad over the abrupt and unlawful dismissal of employees assigned to work in overseas offices because of illegal profiling lists maintained at headquarters. The purge of THY employees, directed by the the Turkish government without any administrative or legal investigation, caused hundreds to lose their jobs overnight. The government blocked their legal challenges in Turkey but is struggling to justify the purge in other countries where host country labor laws take precedence.