The Turkish Embassy in Pretoria spied on a Turkish businessman who is critical of the Islamist government in his homeland of Turkey, documents obtained by Nordic Monitor have revealed.
According to secret Turkish government documents, the embassy had filed two reports about Mustafa Talat Katırcıoğlu, a 49-year-old businessman who fled to South Africa in 2015 to escape a crackdown on critics and opponents of the government of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. The reports were sent to the Foreign Ministry in Ankara and were later shared with other branches of government, helping to build a false criminal case on terrorism charges.
In one embassy report he was profiled as the owner of Aksan Property Development in South Africa and described as being associated with the Gülen movement, a group critical of the government and led by US-based Turkish Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen.
The secret file kept by the Turkish police on Katırcıoğlu indicated that he moved from South Africa to the United States in 2017 with his family and settled in New Jersey. The detailed information collected about the businessman indicates he had been monitored closely by operatives of the Turkish government.
Critics of the Erdoğan government, especially members of the Gülen movement, have been facing surveillance, harassment and threats of death and abduction since 2014, when then-Prime Minister and now President Erdoğan decided to scapegoat the group for his own legal troubles, ranging from pervasive corruption in the government to Turkey’s aiding and abetting of armed jihadist groups in Syria.
Foreign citizens and dual nationals including Americans, Europeans and Africans were prosecuted and imprisoned in Turkey on false terrorism charges as the government intensified the crackdown on opposition groups to silence critical voices and suppress the right to dissent.
Katırcıoğlu used to manage major corporations and investments in Turkey until the Erdoğan government decided to unlawfully seize his and his family’s businesses. He used to have shares and investments in such companies as construction and industrial firm Akasya Yapı ve Sanayi Ticaret A.Ş., a tourism, design, construction and trading company named Forum İnşaat Dekorasyon Turizm Sanayi ve Ticaret A.Ş., contracting and construction firm Özgün İnşaat Taahhüt ve Ticaret A.Ş and many others. All these companies were taken over by the government and their assets seized.
He also had shares in Kaynak Holding, a major conglomerate and the largest publisher in Turkey, which was unlawfully seized by the Erdoğan government on fabricated charges of terrorism in November 2015. Kaynak, a group that operated 22 major companies under its umbrella, was owned and operated by businesspeople who were seen as affiliated with the Gülen movement.
The confidential file shows that Katırcıoğlu has been the subject of two criminal cases on false terrorism charges, one in 2014 and the other in 2017. His passport was also revoked. On March 3, 2020 the police made a note in his case file that secrecy was paramount when communicating information about him and warned that it not be shared with any third parties.
The embassy profiling reports ended up as yet another piece of evidence in criminal investigation cases managed by Turkish prosecutors against Katırcıoğlu. With the purge and/or imprisonment of over 4,000 judges and prosecutors in the 2016-2017 period, the rule of law was effectively suspended and the Turkish judiciary was transformed into a tool of the government, which often abuses the criminal justice system to punish its critics and opponents on terrorism charges.
His father, Ali Katırcıoğlu, is also being hunted by Turkish authorities on similar charges. Ali sponsored the construction of a mosque complex, called the Nizamiye Külliyesi, in the South African city of Johannesburg. He received the support of legendary South African leader Nelson Mandela, who asked the Turkish businessman to add a medical center to the project.
“I explained the project to him [Mandela]. He understood the project, said it would be beneficial for the region and that he would always provide support for it. He also requested that we include a medical center in the project because there were many people with health problems in the country. This was an order for us. Upon his request, we added a medical clinic to the project,” Ali said referring to his meeting with Mandela before South African leader passed away in December 2013. “I could not help but embrace him. He hugged me, too. We were like two brothers,” Ali added, according to the an article published in a Turkish newspaper.
In Turkey, over half a million people affiliated with the Gülen movement have been put in detention facilities on fabricated terrorism charges in the aftermath of a coup attempt in July 2016. Since then, more than 130,000 civil servants have been dismissed by the government with no effective judicial or administrative investigation, 4,560 of whom were judges and prosecutors and were replaced by pro-Erdogan staff. As a result of the massive purge, the Turkish judiciary and law enforcement authorities have become tools in the hands of the Islamist government of President Erdoğan.
Three-page list that shows dozens of companies in which Mustafa Talat Katırcıoğlu had shares were unlawfully seized by the Turkish government:Katircioglu_seized_companies
Nordic Monitor previously published a report disclosing how Turkish embassies and consular officials engaged in spying on government critics in 92 foreign countries as part of profiling and espionage activities that at times amounted to a systematic and deliberate campaign of refugee spying. A document found in papers released by the Ankara 4th High Criminal Court on Jan. 16, 2019 in case No. 2016/238 indicated that the Turkish Foreign Ministry had compiled a long list of foreign entities that were owned and/or operated by people seen as close to the Gülen movement.
The embassy that sent profiling reports about Turks in South Africa is currently run by Ambassador Elif Çomoğlu Ülgen. She has been facilitating the establishment of Turkish Islamist entities, mainly the Maarif Foundation, a Turkish-government-funded entity that intends to expand its education network in South Africa and its neighborhood. Maarif management is filled with partisans and Islamists, some of whom have connections to the Foundation for Human Rights and Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief (İnsan Hak ve Hürriyetleri ve İnsani Yardım Vakfı, or IHH), a charity group that is linked to radical armed groups, including al-Qaeda, in Syria and Libya. Ülgen is married to Sinan Ülgen, a former diplomat who now runs a think tank called EDAM in Istanbul.
Maarif is branded as a pet project of Turkey’s Islamist President Erdoğan and serves as his regime’s long arm abroad in providing educational services as part of a campaign of proselytization. It also aims to raise a new generation of political Islamist activists to mobilize around Erdoğan. Video footage has emerged from Africa and other parts of the world that shows students at Maarif schools chanting and praying for Erdoğan during election campaigns in Turkey.
Adem Koc, director of the Maarif Foundation in South Africa, told the state-run Anadolu news agency that they had received a good response from the South African government to their proposal to open schools and a university.