Secret wiretap records have revealed that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan installed an Islamist caretaker in one of the major media outlets in Turkey, who in turn offered the services of the media outlet to the government’s Religious Affairs Directorate (Diyanet).
According to documents obtained by Nordic Monitor, Mehmet Fatih Saraç, who became a senior executive at the Ciner Media Group, which owns the Habertürk daily and Habertürk TV, revealed on the phone that he was brought into the group by Erdoğan himself. He was talking to Mehmet Görmez, head of the Diyanet, informing the top imam of his appointment, saying that he would devote the all division of the media outlet to the service of the Diyanet.
“At the discretion of our respected prime minister [Erdoğan], I was appointed vice chairman of the board of directors at the Habertürk daily and Habertürk TV,” Saraç told Görmez, adding, “Habertürk is at your command.” He elaborated further on his offer, saying he would be happy to host as guests at the network some 10 people named by Görmez and run any program he wants to see on the station.
Saraç continued to lay out the extent of his offer and said, “If you want us to run a series in the newspaper — on any page,” the Habertürk daily was ready to do it. “Anywhere [among the Ciner Media Group outlets] including the newspaper, Internet sites and TV,” he said.
Transcript of secret wiretap:Sarac_Diyanet_Haberturk
Görmez thanked Saraç for the offer and immediately proposed the establishment of a team for Ramadan programs for the Ciner outlets. Saraç also informed the government imam that he had barred guests he described as speaking improperly from appearing as experts on the network and sought his guidance on who he should feature. The two briefly discussed when to meet face-to-face to speak further on such matters.
Fatih Saraç is a graduate of a Saudi university in Mecca and the son of prominent religious sect leader Muhammed Emin Saraç, who was described as a role model for Turkish President Erdoğan, seen in 2014 kissing the hand of the cleric as a sign of respect and reverence. In the wiretap Görmez addressed Fatih Saraç as “the son of my mentor” and recalled a visit to his ailing father. Fatih Saraç lamented that he was not in Istanbul when the Diyanet’s leader visited his father.
Fatih Saraç was also found to be a long-time business partner of Saudi national Yasin al-Qadi, who for many years had been listed as an al-Qaeda financier by both the US Treasury and the UN.
The Diyanet controls some 80,000 mosques in Turkey and abroad and employs close to 150,000 imams and other staff with huge funds provided from taxpayers’ money. It has been transformed into one of the leading instruments in the hands of Erdoğan and other Islamists in the government to promote political Islam. In 2016 thousands of imams were purged from the Diyanet because they refused to toe the line of the Erdoğan government’s political manipulation of the religion.
Turgay Ciner is the owner of Turkey’s pro-government Ciner Media Group. Ciner has business interests in various sectors, from mining to banking, and uses his media outlets to promote the government of President Erdoğan. In return he receives favorable treatment in government contracts, licensing and tenders.
The wiretap was authorized by an Istanbul court on March 24, 2013 as part of an investigation into an organized crime network that incriminated Ciner and other Turkish businesspeople as well senior government officials.
Ciner, who was also investigated in a December 25, 2013 probe in Turkey, was let off the hook thanks to the relationship he had forged with Erdoğan. Saraç acted as a go-between, passing messages between his boss Ciner and Erdoğan and other government officials. Saraç made headlines in Turkey in February 2014 when a phone call between him and then-Prime Minister Erdoğan was leaked on the Internet, revealing that Erdoğan had instructed Saraç to censor the broadcasts of opposition leaders.