Records show Turkey’s foreign minister had a change of heart for Ukrainian political factions after favors

Levent Kenez

 

Public records reviewed by Nordic Monitor suggest further evidence of illicit activities engaged in by Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, who was accused of being a secretly paid lobbyist for political interest groups in Ukraine while he was serving at the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE). 

Although the Turkish minister denied any wrongdoing, his track record shows he had made inexplicable U-turns on his previously declared positions on political developments in Ukraine, which raises questions about his motives.

For one, Turkey’s top diplomat changed his opinion about Ukraine’s jailing of prominent opposition leader and former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, which he previously had declared unacceptable and called for her immediate release. On another occasion he repeatedly expressed dissent with critics who raised concerns about the legitimacy of the 2012 elections in Ukraine for which he was one of the election observers. A year later Çavuşoğlu was awarded the Order of the State of Ukraine for his services to the Ukrainian government. 

The Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), a nonprofit media organization providing an investigative reporting platform, alleged on November 4, 2019 that some politicians and diplomats were secretly funded as part of a campaign that Tymoshenko’s jailing should not prevent the country from signing an association agreement with the European Union, according to a number of leaked e-mails. Çavuşoğlu, who was president of PACE between January 2010 and January 2012, is one of the politicians who were allegedly bribed by a secretive lobbying campaign orchestrated by US lobbyist and President Donald Trump’s former presidential campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, who is currently in prison on tax and bank fraud charges. Serhiy Lovochkin, a member of the Ukrainian parliament and today the leader of its largest opposition party, is believed to have been the source of Manafort’s funds.

Former Ukranian President Yanukovych and Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu (R)

Çavuşoğlu is accused in particular of lobbying while serving as a member of a PACE mission to observe Ukraine’s parliamentary elections on October 28, 2012 in favor of pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych, who fled to Russia following the uprisings of 2014, also known as the Ukrainian revolution. The total amount of money allegedly given to him is unknown, but “Cavusoglu needed a ‘separate’ transfer of 230,000 euros,” an email chain to Lovochkin reads.

According to official Council of Europe documents, Çavuşoğlu was part of a seven-member PACE delegation that made a pre-election visit to Ukraine September 20-21, 2012. Later Çavuşoğlu became the deputy head of a 46-member PACE delegation to observe the parliamentary elections along with observers from the OSCE (Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe) Parliamentary Assembly, the European Parliament, the NATO Parliamentary Assembly and the OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) on October 28, 2012.

On the eve of leaving Brussels for Kyiv, Çavuşoğlu said in an exclusive interview with Interfax-Ukraine on October 25, 2012 that it was wrong to assess the elections in Ukraine before election day. 

Referring to the jailing of opposition leader Tymoshenko, which many international observers warned was a clear indication of an unfair election, Çavuşoğlu noted that PACE had adopted two resolutions on Ukraine, in particular, on the functioning of democratic institutions and on the implementation of commitments assumed. “Both resolutions emphasized that the PACE’s concern regarding the trials against Tymoshenko should not be used to undermine the legitimacy of the elections,” he added.

However, he met with Tymoshenko’s daughter, Eugenia Carr, in Strasbourg almost a year before the elections, on October 5, 2011, and the then-president of PACE noted that he had repeatedly expressed to the Ukrainian government his concerns over the dangerous developments in Ukraine, particularly signs of the political persecution of Tymoshenko, the leader of the largest opposition party in Ukraine, the Unian Information Agency reported. 

“In September I had the opportunity during the meeting in Yalta to personally convey my concern to President Viktor Yanukovych and his advisors. I can repeat today that serious problems must be resolved positively by those who created them,” he said, adding: “Today at the current session of PACE we heard from nearly all political groups growing concern over events in Ukraine. My meeting with you [Eugenia Carr] is proof that I personally share this position.”

Çavuşoğlu had also asked Carr to pass on greetings and words of support to Tymoshenko.

Interestingly, immediately after the controversial election, Çavuşoğlu said at a press conference in Kyiv on October 29, 2012 that the conviction of former Prime Minister Tymoshenko should not influence the recognition of the legitimacy of the elections.

During the same press conference he also told Ukrainian media and international observers that “I don’t think PACE will raise the question of the illegitimacy of these elections.”

“Most observers assessed election day in Ukraine as ‘good’ or ‘very good’,” he said.

Contrary to Çavuşoğlu’s remarks, Walburga Habsburg Douglas, the Swedish MP who headed the OSCE mission, said, “Considering the abuse of power, and the excessive role of money in this election, democratic progress appears to have reversed in Ukraine,” BBC reported.

Tymoshenko had  announced a hunger strike in protest of alleged vote rigging following the early results.

The Central Election Commission released provisional results almost 10 days later, on November 8, 2012, and issued a recommendation for the Ukrainian parliament to repeat the elections in five constituencies for the reason that it was impossible to count the votes. In an unusual outcome only 445 deputies were elected instead of 450. The new election for the vacant seats was set for December 15, 2013.

On November 5, 2012 , the European Parliament made a motion for a resolution on the Ukrainian elections. It was stated at the session that OSCE/ODIHR noted in its preliminary findings and conclusions that the elections were characterized by the lack of a level playing field caused primarily by the abuse of administrative resources, a lack of transparency of campaign and party financing and a lack of balanced media coverage.

There was only one objection to the findings of the international observers including those from PACE and the OSCE. Çavuşoğlu said on the record that “the former president of PACE” expressed his doubts about the statement made by the heads of the missions and that political declarations overshadowed the actual findings during observation of the elections.

 

However, a resolution adopted by the parliament on December 13, 2012 stated, “The Parliament expresses regret at the fact that, according to the OSCE, PACE, NATO Parliamentary Assembly and European Parliament observers, the election campaign, electoral process and post-electoral process failed to meet major international standards and constitute a step backwards compared with the national elections in 2010.”

It can be seen that Çavuşoğlu insisted on his view of a “fair election” until the very end and tried to make it official on all platforms despite respected international organizations claiming the opposite. It is still unclear whether the motivation behind that was the allegations OCCRP put forward.

In a written statement to the state-run Anadolu news agency on November 8, 2019 Çavuşoğlu said accusations in a report published by an organization funded by George Soros “have nothing to do with the reality.” Turkey’s top diplomat probably intended to send a message to his party’s Islamist grassroots by mentioning Soros, whom President Erdoğan previously slammed as an “infamous Hungarian Jew” who was supporting terrorism in Turkey.

“Thank God, I have never done anything throughout my political life that is unethical and that I cannot answer for. The first time I heard the name of Paul Manafort was when he was sent to jail in the United States,” Çavuşoğlu stated.

 

It is noteworthy that then-Ukrainian President Yanukovych presented the Order of the State of Ukraine to Çavuşoğlu, who was at the time deputy chairman of the governing Justice and Development Party (AKP), on October 11, 2013 during an official visit to Ankara at then-Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s residence. In a modest ceremony Yanukovich said he issued a presidential decree to bestow the order on Çavuşoğlu on the occasion of the 22nd anniversary of the independence of Ukraine.

This was not the first time Çavuşoğlu was allegedly involved in an international scandal. Trump’s former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn and his son were to be paid as much as $15 million to hand vocal Erdoğan critic and Islamic cleric Fethullah Gülen, who is currently living in Pennsylvania, over to the Turkish government under the alleged proposal, according to people with knowledge of discussions Flynn had with Turkish representatives including Çavuşoğlu and Erdoğan son-in-law Berat Albayrak during a reported meeting in September 2017 in New York City. Former CIA Director James Woolsey, who was also present during the meeting, described the proposal as “a covert step in the dead of night to whisk this guy away.”

 

 

Two men who were working for Flynn’s lobbying company were convicted in July 2019 of attempting to “covertly and unlawfully” influence US politics and public opinion in favor of extraditing Gülen. Çavuşoğlu’s photographs and an e-mail with the subject line of “Çavuşoğlu” were added to the trial exhibit list.

Moreover, a reliable source who spoke on condition of anonymity told Nordic Monitor that he met a businessman detained at the Antalya Police Department after a coup attempt in Turkey in 2016 who was shouting at police officers: “How dare you bring me here! I am a business partner of Çavuşoğlu. You will pay for this.” The businessman reportedly was released immediately, and the head of the Antalya Police intelligence bureau was dismissed. In Çavuşoğlu’s official biography, no current or past business activity is mentioned. He has never filed a legally required financial disclosure that would be open to public scrutiny.

In 2014 Ömer Ertüzün, head of the General Directorate of National Property’s branch in Alanya, Çavuşoğlu’s hometown in the south of Turkey, was relegated to a post in another city. It later turned out to be punishment for canceling leases held by some of Çavuşoğlu’s relatives who were paying too little in rent. Ertüzün wrote on social media that he did not agree to be a servant of “some people” and as a result crashed into a wall, in an indirect reference to Çavuşoğlu.

Another example of favoritism related to the Çavuşoğlu family occurred in February 2019. Şeyda Çavuşoğlu, the wife of Çavuşoğlu’s nephew, was accepted in a master’s program at Alanya Alaaddin Keykubat University despite the fact that she scored the worst in the the entrance examination. Other candidates whose scores were higher than Şeyma’s appeared on a waiting list. A Turkish court banned access to the sites listing the results of the examination after reports on them were published.

 

 

More recently, Natali Avazyan, a Turkish human rights activist of Armenian origin, was detained in İstanbul on October 8, 2019 due to a Çavuşoğlu family photo she posted on Twitter. Avazyan posted the photo of the Çavuşoğlu family from what she said was the year 1988 with a message saying that Çavuşoğlu’s father was known as the “thief, Kurdish Osman” at the time. Navazyan was released under judicial supervision.

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