An audit report by the Turkish Court of Accounts released in September 2019 shows how foreign ministry sources were used for the recruitment of partisans while funds were wasted on a project contracted to cronies close to President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
The foreign ministry’s allocation from the 2017 budget amounted to TL 3.18 billion, whereas this figure rose to TL 3.9 billion in 2018, increasing 22 percent over the previous year. According to the 2018 audit report, the ministry’s spending exceeded the total amount allocated from the central budget.
The auditing report indicates that the ministry’s highest spending in 2018 was on personnel. The amount transferred to the foreign ministry for personnel expenditures was TL 896 million in 2016 and TL 1.04 billion in 2017. However, in 2018, the ministry received TL 1.51 billion, more than a third of its annual budget allocation, in the same year. The most significant change on the balance sheet shows a tremendous increase of 46 percent in personnel expenses.
These figures highlight the fact that the foreign ministry has accelerated its recruitment process to fill positions that have become vacant due to a purge of diplomats in the aftermath of a coup attempt on July 15, 2016. According to the latest official announcement, the foreign ministry will recruit 150 staff members for both diplomatic and administrative positions in 2019.
Since the coup attempt more than 130,000 civil servants have been dismissed by Erdoğan’s government with no effective judicial or administrative investigation. Six hundred and six of them were foreign ministry personnel. Some were jailed in Turkey, while others were forced to seek asylum abroad to escape wrongful imprisonment, torture or ill treatment in prisons and detention facilities.
Similar to previous years’ budgets, the foreign ministry has spent around TL 600 million for the procurement or construction of Turkish diplomatic buildings abroad. Most of this amount was allocated to the Turkish cultural center (Türkevi) being constructed in New York City by Turkish company IC İçtaş Construction.
The IC group is owned by İbrahim Çeçen, who is known to have close ties to Erdoğan and his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).
Türkevi in New York will house Turkey’s permanent representation to the UN and the New York Consulate General as well as residential apartments reserved for diplomats. The groundbreaking ceremony of the 35-story cultural center was held with the participation of President Erdoğan in 2017. The building is scheduled for completion in the fall of 2020.
The project, however, has turned into a financial black hole that pulled millions from Turkish taxpayers into Erdoğan’s corrupt business system. While the estimated cost of the project was $100 million in 2017, the Turkish Hürriyet daily reported last month that Türkevi is now projected to cost $300 million, triple the amount of original estimate.
Graft probes in Turkey in December 2013 exposed how industry plays a political role far beyond that of fueling the economy. The second leg of the investigation, often referred as the December 25 corruption case, suggested Erdoğan personally used big-ticket construction projects as a lure to get his business associates to do his bidding.
The purchase and operating costs of the Sabah daily, ATV and other media outlets owned by Turkuvaz Media, the main propaganda machine of the regime in Turkey, have been financed by kickbacks from pro-government businesspeople in exchange for lucrative government contracts. According to the summary of proceedings in the corruption case that was made public in December 2013, Erdoğan had tasked then-Transportation and Communications Minister Binali Yıldırım with organizing several businessmen to collect enough funds to acquire Turkuvaz Media. Yıldırım then created a pool of money from the contributions of the businessmen.
Çeçen of IC Holding, who contributed $100 million to the pool for the purchase, promised to contribute a further $50 million if he was brought in on a new airport project, the the summary of proceedings stated. In return Çeçen and his IC group have benefited immensely from Erdoğan’s political success in subsequent years. His companies have won many large public tenders, ranging from the construction of the third Bosporus Bridge and the Northern Marmara Highway to airport, port and energy projects in Turkey.