Turkish Embassy in Prague promoted far-right extremist suspected in plot to kill Pope Benedict XVI

Nordic Monitor

 

Social media messages shared by the official Twitter accounts of Turkey’s diplomatic missions reveal the dark details of Turkish ambassadors’ private lives.

Recently, the Turkish Embassy in Prague retweeted a message by Kadir Canpolat, one of six suspects who were detained before the visit of Pope Benedict XVI to Turkey on November 30, 2016 on charges of attempting to stage an armed attack on the pope.

Canpolat is the leader of a youth group called Osmanlı Ocakları (Ottoman Hearths), based on a mafia-style code of conduct. The Ottoman Hearths, the members of which define themselves as soldiers of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, is actively training young people from the ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) youth branches.

The group was accused of attacking the Hürriyet daily headquarters in Istanbul and the premises of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) in 2015. Prior to the local elections of 2019, Canpolat declared once more his commitment to President Erdoğan: “The great chieftain Erdoğan, who has saved our nation in every respect, is our mutual honor. Those who betray him, betray us.” Canpolat has several pictures of himself with Erdoğan.

In social media messages retweeted by the Turkish Embassy in Prague, Canpolat revealed his loyalty to Ambassador Egemen Bağış, a Turkish politician who faced multi-million dollar graft probes, and to President Erdoğan: “If Erdoğan had ten people like him [Ambassador Bağış], Turkey would be more powerful. … Thanks Bağış, thanks Erdoğan.”

 

Canpolat was also affiliated with the Alperen Hearths, an ultranationalist and religiously conservative youth organization linked to the right-wing and nationalist Grand Unity Party (BBP), at the time, according to police records. He has connections to Mustafa Öztürk, a suspect in the murder of Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink in Istanbul on January 19, 2007. Öztürk was the head of the Alperen group in Trabzon province at the time. Ogün Samast, who assassinated Dink, was a member of the Trabzon branch of the Alperen Hearths.

Two mob attacks targeting the Hürriyet daily headquarters in Istanbul on September 6 and 8, 2015 were claimed to be organized through the Ottoman Hearths. The group was also implicated in sweeping attacks targeting CHP and HDP headquarters in Ankara on September 8, 2015. An incident in which a man threw a bullet, often used by mobs to issue a death threat, at CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu during a funeral for two police officers killed in an attack in Istanbul’s Vezneciler neighborhood on June 7, 2016 was also blamed on the Ottoman Hearths.

 

Kadir Canpolat (L) and President Erdoğan.

 

Moreover, members of the Ottoman Hearths did not hesitate to express their sympathy for the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) terrorist who killed 32 and wounded 104 in a bomb attack in the Turkish town of Suruç during a meeting of young activists to discuss the reconstruction of the neighboring Syrian town of Kobane on July 20, 2015. “I wish mercy to the suicide bomber and to patience to the relatives [of the attacker],” Furkan Gök, chairman of group’s youth branch, tweeted on July 22, 2015.

 

 

In addition to his links to Turkey’s dark figures, Ambassador Bağış, Turkey’s former EU minister and chief negotiator for EU accession, played a significant role in Erdoğan’s corruption and bribery network.

Bağış was one of four ministers forced to resign on December 25, 2013 after the revelation of two corruption investigations on December 17 and 25, in which the inner circle of then-Prime Minister and current President Erdoğan were implicated. Bağış’s crucial role in assisting an Iranian businessman to evade US sanctions was exposed both in the December 2013 graft probes in Turkey and in a 2016 US federal trial in New York.

 

Egemen Bağış (L) and Furkan Gök.

 

Bağış was accused of accepting bribes from Reza Zarrab, an Iranian-Turkish gold trader and money launderer, in a sanctions-busting scheme run through Turkish state-owned Halkbank to circumvent US sanctions on Iran. He received $1.5 million from Zarrab. Bağış helped Zarrab evade the bureaucracy in his dealings and assisted in Zarrab’s father acquiring a Schengen visa from the Italian Embassy in Ankara.

Wiretapped phone conversations revealed that Bağış also offered to help Zarrab with a hotel project. In return, Zarrab sent a total of $1.5 million to Bağış in three separate deliveries. The first sum was delivered to the EU minister in a shoebox, the second in a man’s suit and the third in a box of chocolates. Regarding Bağış, Zarrab was recorded as saying: “Get a nice gift box of chocolates and a silver plate tomorrow. Get another box of chocolates and put 500,000 in it. OK? Sadık [the name of another Turkish man working for Zarrab] knows [the address] — some place around İstinye [a neighborhood in İstanbul]. It is to be delivered to ‘E.’ We have made deliveries [to this place] of 500s [a banknote denomination] before.” The man was then caught on video on October 10 at the entrance to the apartment building in which Bağış lived in İstanbul. Bağış, who was not home at the time, thanked Zarrab over the phone for the delivery when he returned to İstanbul.

 

Egemen Bağış, current Turkish ambassador in Prague and former EU affairs minister.

 

Erdoğan dismissed the corruption allegations, sacked the prosecutors and police chiefs and hushed up the graft probes. He also described the investigations as “a plot by the Gülen movement to topple the government” and launched a crackdown on the group. The movement, led by US-based Turkish Muslim scholar Fethullah Gülen, has long been critical of the Erdoğan government due to its corruption and Ankara’s aiding and abetting of jihadist groups in Syria and Libya.

In Turkey, Bağış and other officials were cleared of any crime in a parliamentary vote in 2014. Everything went well for him until Zarrab, a dual Iranian-Turkish national and sanctions buster, was arrested by the FBI in Miami on March 19, 2016. The US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York indicted Zarrab on charges similar to those filed by Turkish prosecutors in the December 2013 investigations. As part of their case, the US attorneys used Turkish evidence to build a case against Zarrab. In his testimony Zarrab, turned government witness after cutting a plea deal, confessed that he had bribed Bağış and other ministers, set up a money laundering scheme, opened fake accounts in Turkish state banks and established front companies.

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