Turkey used secret witness testimony of a con man to bury the case of illegal arms sent to jihadists

Abdullah Bozkurt

 

Caught red handed while shipping heavy weapons to jihadist groups in Syria in January 2014, Turkey’s intelligence service MIT turned to an organized crime boss who had served jail time to help build a sham case against prosecutors and investigators who looked into al-Qaeda and Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) networks, which were responsible for the death of hundreds of people in Turkey in past terrorist attacks.

Tamer Barış Terkeşli, a notorious felon and a fugitive who served time on extortion, blackmail, sexual harassment and other criminal charges, was enlisted as a secret witness whose false testimony was used as the main piece of evidence to prosecute senior officials in the judiciary and security branches who had investigated the links of jihadist groups to the Islamist government of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. The statement, taken secretly, was part of a calculated scheme by the Erdoğan government to create a pretext for dismissing and imprisoning dozens of Turkey’s top prosecutors and police chiefs specialized in counterterrorism.

The same secret witness statement also helped Erdoğan and his associates to bury major investigations into pervasive corruption in the government and the clandestine activities of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Quds Force in Turkey.  In order to shield the fabricated cases from collapse, the government hid the identity of Terkeşli in prosecution indictments and court documents. The witness’s statement was simply referred to by the codename “Bulut” (Cloud in Turkish).

 

Court papers that show Tamer Barış Terkeşli, the government’s secret witness, is a swindler and extortionist:

Burkay_Dikici

 

Terkeşli was arrested in the southeastern province of Adana in 2011 and was later indicted on three counts of establishing and running an organized crime gang to extort and blackmail businesspeople, municipal employees and government officials. He had served 22 months in prison before he was released pending trial. He faced up to 26 years in prison if convicted. His trial was moving forward in the Adana 5th High Criminal Court under case file No. 2014/187.

 

Mortar shells bound for jihadists in Syria were seized in Turkey’s southeastern border province of Adana.

 

The court records show he was also accused of sexual harassment in a case where he allegedly lured a young woman who was working in his municipal office and had sex under a false promise of marriage. He took nude pictures of her and later used them to blackmail her. Buried deep in legal trouble and the prospect of a long jail sentence, he offered his help to frame critics and opponents of the government, mainly people affiliated with the Gülen movement, led by US resident Fethullah Gülen, who has long been a vocal critic of President Erdoğan.

With the directive coming straight from Erdoğan’s office, MIT set up a secret task force to build a case against the prosecutors, police chiefs and military commanders who had intercepted an illegal arms shipment in January 2014. Closer scrutiny and the ongoing legal investigations by investigators in the law enforcement, military and judicial branches in the border provinces made it difficult for jihadists to move across the Turkish-Syrian border, and MIT had to constantly watch its back for fear of exposure of the illegal arms transfers. Bent on ousting the Bashar al-Assad government through any means possible, Erdoğan’s goal was to remove all obstacles for MIT so that illegal activities to empower jihadist groups could proceed without any glitches. As a result Terkeşli, who identified himself as a MIT operative according to a 2015 indictment in Adana, was enlisted as a secret witness to make baseless accusations against people targeted by the Erdoğan government.

 

Secret witness testimony collapsed during a hearing when the defendant exposed major inconsistencies in Tamer Barış Terkeşli’s statement: 

Terkesli2

 

A special task force, operating in the shadows, was established in 2014 and led by a former intelligence officer and supported by provincial police chief Cengiz Zeybekçi, an Erdoğan appointee. Terkeşli was promised that his record would be expunged and his legal troubles would disappear in exchange for false testimony. He was even given a gun, bodyguards and a state-issued vehicle to attend special task force meetings. He went to the counterterrorism unit in the police station every weekday to hammer out the details of building a false case against government critics.

His 35-page statement given to prosecutor Serdar Coşkun on February 5, 2015 in Ankara included so many names, institutions and details that it suggested that everything had been worked out in advance within the task force set up in Adana. While his identity was kept secret in the prosecutor’s file, Terkeşli was appearing on pro-government TV networks, disseminating similar lies and spinning conspiracy theories to inflame anti-Western hysteria. In a program aired on the A-Haber news network, which is owned by President Erdoğan’s family, Terkeşli inadvertently admitted that he was part of a special team set up in the Adana police station. This was his first public admission that he and others had operated outside the legal system to abuse the criminal justice system in Turkey.

 

Tamer Barış Terkeşli

 

The mastermind behind this plan and the use of Terkeşli as a secret witness was reportedly Ömer Çelik, a deputy from Adana province and deputy chairman of Erdoğan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). Çelik, groomed in his youth to be an advocate of the Iranian mullah regime, had an interest in seeing the IRGC Quds Force investigation go away so that he would not be exposed, along with other government officials who had connections to the Quds Force. Terkeşli often bragged about his political connections to Çelik in order to run his schemes in Adana province, according to the witness accounts found in the court documents.

Terkeşli, who had started out as a technical expert in a low-profile position in the Adana Metropolitan Municipality, managed to establish a web of contacts and started running his own cunning schemes. He even briefly worked as an advisor to Deputy Mayor of Adana Zihni Aldırmaz before he was fired after municipal authorities found that he had been involved in extortion, tender rigging, abuse of power and blackmail. He then turned against his former boss, Aldırmaz, and his allies, filing false complaints against them with the prosecutor’s office and threatening them with legal action through his ties to members of the judiciary and the intelligence service.

 

SECRET WITNESS IN WHITEWASHING MATCH-FIXING

 

In another case, the government again enlisted him as a secret witness, this time under the code name “Güneş” (Sun), for the specific purpose of whitewashing criminal activity in the match fixing scandals that drew the wrath of the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA). The government claimed the original case was bogus and shifted the blame to the journalists who covered the scandal. Terkeşli’s false statements, taken twice, on July 13, 2015 and February 22, 2016, constituted the core of the indictment drafted by a loyalist Erdoğan prosecutor against veteran journalists Ekrem Dumanlı, the then-editor-in-chief of the Zaman newspaper, and Hidayet Karaca, general manager of the popular Samanyolu TV network, and others. During the trial phase, every one of the claims made by Terkeşli was refuted, yet the case was allowed to proceed by judges specially appointed to the bench by the government.

One of the claims he made was that the investigation into the match-fixing scandal in the Fenerbahçe football club was orchestrated at a meeting held in the summer of 2014 at the headquarters of the Zaman newspaper, at one time the largest national daily in Turkey before its unlawful takeover by the government in March 2016 and closure in July 2016. Terkeşli claimed he was present at the meeting. At a hearing held on January 8, 2018, the evidence presented to the court confirmed that Terkeşli was not even in the building at the time he claimed such a meeting took place. One of the alleged participants in the meeting, Ilhan İşbilen, a former member of parliament, banker and sailor, turned out to be in Algeria on a business trip at the time. Karaca was not in the building, either. İşbilen resigned from the ruling AKP in 2015 to protest corrupt ministers and officials in the government. In response, he has been jailed by the government to intimidate other members of the party and to discourage them from resigning.

 

Fenerbahçe Club Chairman Aziz Yıldırım, convicted in July 2012 and sentenced to prison. He was freed after President Erdogan’s intervention.

 

In his defense statement, Police Chief Ibrahim Emre, who ran the investigation into the match fixing claims and uncovered substantial evidence of wrongdoing, submitted a detailed account of how Terkeşli’s two statements conflicted with each other. He destroyed Terkeşli’s lies one by one at the hearing. He also proved that Terkeşli took $50,000 from a suspect in the match fixing investigation in exchange for a promise of release from pretrial detention.

In a hearing held on September 15, 2017 defense attorney Burkay Dikici also went after the credentials of the witness and told the judges of the Adana 2nd High Criminal Court that Terkeşli had threatened his clients with prosecution after he enlisted himself as a secret witness with the government and tried to extort money from his clients. The lawyer also revealed that Terkeşli was the subject of an investigation in another blackmail scheme that involved the provincial police chief and that he had received 2 million lira in extortion money.

The match-fixing scandal goes back nearly a decade, when the police raided the homes of people prominent in football clubs as well as football club premises, detaining some 60 people suspected of rigging football matches in two leagues on July 3, 2011. Many high-ranking football officials from various clubs, including Fenerbahçe and Beşiktaş, were arrested on charges of fraud and match-fixing during the 2010-11 season. A total of 31 individuals, including agents, former football players and club managers, with Fenerbahçe Club Chairman Aziz Yıldırım being the highest-profile figure, were jailed pending trial.

The case cast a shadow over the country’s multi-billion dollar league. The investigation was expanded and, in the end, İstanbul prosecutor Mehmet Berk indicted 93 suspects in December 2011. According to the indictment, Yıldırım and Former Giresunspor Chairman Olgun Peker, the prime suspect in the case, were accused of establishing and running a criminal organization to generate illegal profits, committing fraud and engaging in match fixing. The Fenerbahçe chairman faced six charges of fraud, four for match-fixing and three for incentive payment (bribing the opposing team).

 

Thousands of Fenerbahçe supporters marched in İstanbul in July 2013 to protest the ouster of Fenerbahçe from European club competition for three seasons.

 

According to wiretaps in the case file, Yıldırım attempted to appoint referees for games in order to tilt the result to his team’s favor and hand-picked referees to fix the game against the club’s arch-rival Trabzonspor. The wiretaps and surveillance footage to prove the allegations were presented to the court by the prosecutor. The matches Yıldırım was accused of rigging were Fenerbahçe-İstanbul Büyükşehir Belediyespor on May 1, 2011; Kardemir Karabükspor-Fenerbahçe on May 8, 2011; Fenerbahçe-Ankaragücü on May 15, 2011; and Sivasspor-Fenerbahçe on May 22, 2011, all of which were key to Fenerbahçe becoming champion.

Yıldırım was also accused by the prosecutor of setting up a gang for unearned economic profit. The evidence presented in the indictment showed that Yıldırım paid 345,000 euros for the transfer of footballer Gökdeniz Karadeniz to Fenerbahçe, although he never played for Fenerbahçe. The transfer was conducted through an agency called Refleks Menajerlik, owned by Olgun Peker, known as the godson of convicted mafia boss Sedat Peker. It was part of a money laundering scheme.

Yıldırım remained was held bars for one year in pretrial detention on charges of rigging matches to ensure Fener’s championship and was later released pending trial. The trial ended in July 2012, and 48 suspects were convicted. Yıldırım and six other suspects were sentenced to jail time. The 5th Chamber of the Supreme Court of Appeals in January 2014 upheld Yıldırım’s conviction of match-fixing, sending him back to prison to serve the remainder of the sentence.

The scandal rocked the reputation of Turkish football and resulted in a UEFA ban for Fenerbahçe and Beşiktaş in European competitions. Fenerbahçe was banned from European club competition for three seasons — with one deferred — and fellow Turkish side Beşiktaş for one. Both bans were connected to the match-fixing that took place in domestic games in 2011. The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) upheld the ban and rejected Fenerbahçe’s appeal for its two-season expulsion from European competitions for match fixing. Fenerbahçe was also punished by the Turkish Football Federation (TFF) and barred from taking part in 2012 in the million-dollar Champions League tournament due to its managers’ implication in the rigging scandal.

Yıldırım, regarded as the most powerful man in Turkish soccer, made a secret deal with Erdoğan to extricate himself from all charges in exchange for his and the fans’ support in elections. Fener, known as the Yellow Canaries, is believed to have the largest number of fans across Turkey. With the intervention of the government in 2014, İstanbul Public Prosecutor Hasan Yılmaz, an Erdoğan loyalist, demanded the acquittal of Yıldırım, claiming that he was the victim of a plot.

In a quick retrial, all his crimes were whitewashed, on October 9, 2015, by the Istanbul 13th High Criminal Court. The appeal is still pending. As if that were not enough, the government prosecutor initiated a new prosecution against the judges, prosecutors and police investigators who were involved in the original 2011 case in which dozens of suspects were investigated, prosecuted, tried and convicted of match-fixing. A new indictment was filed on December 1, 2016 against a number of journalists, members of the judiciary and law enforcement officials. Terkeşli was the key secret witness in this new, farcical case as well.

HE REMAINS ON THE RUN AFTER FRESH CHARGES

After he apparently committed perjury with false statements and helped Erdoğan frame government officials who had investigated jihadists and crooks in organized crime networks, Terkeşli resumed his criminal activities, threatening people with jail by naming them as Gülenists if they did not pay extortion money. He conned a wealthy local businessman and took TL 2 million as well as lavish gifts he claimed as bribes to be given to the police. He even billed the victim’s account TL 98,000 on the grounds that the police needed new wiretapping equipment and furniture. When the businessman realized he was being played, he demanded his money back. but Terkeşli threatened him with arrest if he didn’t keep quiet.

 

Tamer Barış Terkeşli appeared on a a pro-government TV station to disseminate the same lies he made as a secret witness.

 

His second target was an accountant who was asked to hand over TL 1.2 million to avoid arrest. Terkeşli presented himself as an intelligence agent and promised to save him from what he said was imminent arrest. Another victim, known only by the initials A.K.B. and branded as a Gülenist in a tweet, was called by Terkeşli, who again identified himself as an intelligence officer and told the mark that he would soon be arrested. Asked by the victim if anything could be done to prevent the arrest, Terkeşli said if he turned over the deed of a valuable property to a developer he knew, the arrest would be cancelled. When the development of the property was completed, Terkeşli would have owned 350 apartments on that plot of land. The owner refused and later was arrested in July 2016.

Upon so many complaints from victims who had been conned, a prosecutor had to launch an investigation, and the case eventually opened in the Adana 14th High Criminal Court against Terkeşli and five associates on blackmail and fraud charges in 2019. However Terkeşli remains a fugitive and is on the run with the help of friends in law enforcement and the intelligence services.

STATEMENTS FULL OF LIES AND FABRICATIONS

Nordic Monitor has reviewed statements Terkeşli gave to prosecutors as a secret witness, and they appear to have been scripted in a narrative that was parallel to what Erdoğan had been saying all along. For example, he described the 2013 corruption investigations that incriminated Erdoğan and his family members in an Iran sanctions busting scheme that involved the use of Turkish state banks as “power pollution,” an influence operation run by the Gülen movement. The interception and investigation of a Syria-bound, arms-laden truck in January 2014 was put in the same category, and he claimed that all such operations were in line with CIA directives. He also alleged that the movement was linked to Israeli spy agency Mossad.

 

The secret witness statement claiming that counterterrorism prosecutors plotted against the government by investigating illegal arms shipments to jihadists.

 

He named as Gülenists veteran prosecutors Özcan Şişman and Süleyman Bağrıyanık, who had for years investigated radical religious groups in Turkey and intercepted illegal arms shipments into Syria. The government used Terkeşli’s statement to hush up these investigations, which had panicked Erdoğan and his allies, In the end, prosecutors who did their jobs in the counterterrorism cases were punished. Terkeşli also falsely claimed that he had been with the Gülen movement before, a claim that the lawyers of Fethullah Gülen, the leader of the movement, denied in a public statement in 2014. The lawyers said he had no connection to the movement at all. Yet, in his secret statement to the prosecutor, he alleged he had been part of what he claimed to be a “ghost Mediterranean group” in the Gülen movement to cast a shroud of mystery over his activities.

 

The secret witness statement claiming that the interception of illegal arms to jihadists was linked to the CIA.

 

In his appearances on government-directed media outlets, Terkeşli went even further by claiming that he had direct access to Gülen, who has been living in a retreat in Pennsylvania since 1999. In a news program aired by AHaber TV, he claimed he had the code name “Kral” (King) and that he was the one who had conveyed a directive from Gülen to launch corruption investigations that were made public in December 2013 and that incriminated Erdoğan, his family members and his business and political associates. No evidence was presented to support his claims.

In many cases that were launched against Erdoğan’s critics, Terkeşli was the key witness leveling accusations against defendants who had done nothing illegal. Government prosecutors often cited his secret statements and testimony as adequate evidence to indict hundreds of the people in sham investigations, and the judges simply overlooked many inconsistencies in his lies and convicted innocent people based on this con man’s allegations in politically motivated trials.

 

Lawyers for Fethullah Gülen issued a statement saying that Tamer Barış Terkeşli had nothing to do with the Gülen movement.

 

 

KEY WITNESS IN A CASE AGAINST A POPULAR JOURNALIST

 

He was also listed as secret witness, this time under the code name “Kasırga” (Hurricane), in the main legal case that was being heard by the Ankara 4th High Criminal Court against Gülen and 72 defendants, including prominent journalist Karaca. Terkeşli leveled the same accusations as he did before and added more lies to his statement.

In May 2017 Terkeşli had to appear in court via teleconference with his face covered when Karaca and his lawyer insisted on cross-examining him. Karaca asked him if he knew any members of the board of directors at the Samanyolu TV network, which he had managed until 2014, when he was arrested on false charges. Terkeşli replied in the affirmative and claimed he knew at least 10 to 15 people on the board. When asked to name them in court, he said he would remember names only if the list of all board members were read out loud to him. Karaca read all the names, and Terkeşli acknowledged he did not know any of them. But the last response was the worst in the cross examination. He admitted he did not even know Karaca, who was general manager of the network and a well-known journalist in Turkey. He claimed he had visited network headquarters one or two times in the past.

Cross-examination of the secret witness exposed lies and fabrications against journalist Hidayet Karaca.

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