A highly sophisticated criminal enterprise obtained classified documents by making use of a honey trap scheme in the capital city of Ankara, with officers, governors, investigators and other bureaucrats ensnared in its web.
Nordic Monitor tracked the story of an escort woman who had traded sexual favors to gain access to official documents and pass them to her handlers, who then blackmailed her clients with a leak of taped sexual encounters, if necessary. She was one of many women who were tapped by the gang to extract sensitive government data from clients.
Her name is Ferda Berge, 34 years old at the time she was detained by the police in 2012 on multiple charges. Having grown up in a large family of nine children in Turkey’s southeastern province of Mersin, she was married at the young age of 19. She went through a divorce in 2002 after the couple had three children. She moved to Ankara and started working as a waitress in bars. She later started a prostitution business, renting a house to use as a rendezvous location while advertising herself on escort sites.
After a while she was recruited by a gang that set up schemes to obtain classified documents from government officials who were lured by sex. Berge screened her customers to identify whether they would be suitable candidates from whom the gang could acquire information on various branches of government. She took detailed notes on clients’ backgrounds, listed their weaknesses and suggested the best course of action for turning them into assets.
Documents seized from mastermind Bilgin Özkaynak and other suspects in the gang during the execution of search warrants in homes and offices revealed Berge’s secret record, which showed whom she had sex with and what documents or information she managed to obtain from the officials who were targeted.
In the house she used to meet with clients, police found 12 CDs and one 320 GB hard drive during the execution of a search and seizure warrant. An examination of the CDs and hard drive revealed that she possessed Turkish military documents including ones stamped secret on subjects such as counterterrorism and organized crime. The gendarme’s organizational chart as well as the names, photos and task assignments of dozens of law enforcement officers are included in the list of documents.
The expert report on the examination of CDs and a hard drive seized from the house used by a prostitute to meet with her clients:Ferda_Berge_digital_evidence
Berge did not use her real name while meeting with men for sex and adopted fake names such as Müge, Nil, Ayçin, Gasret and Esin in advertising on an escort site. She also used three different mobile numbers for communications.
In a file named Pandora.V12, found in digital materials seized from gang leader Özkaynak’s summer house in Sapanca in the northwestern province of Sakarya, she was listed as one of 52 escort women who were used to obtain classified information from government officials. The encrypted file had four separate sections: Koordinatörler (coordinators), Veri_1, (Data_1), Veri_2 and Veri_3.
In the section under Berge’s name, 29 government officials were listed with explanatory notes on their profiles. They included senior bureaucrats such as district governors, heads of departments in the interior ministry and officers in the Turkish military. The notes detail the character of the people who were lured with sex, their weak spots and what kind of documents they leaked or could provide in the future.
The names of Turkish officials who were profiled by a prostitute and her handler:Ferda_Berge_profiled
Berge’s portfolio included several officials from the Undersecretariat for Foreign Trade (Dış Ticaret Müsteşarlığı, or DTM) which was later incorporated into the Trade Ministry. The DTM is the ultimate authority in Turkey for export and import. According to the notes, Bahattin Erbil, a department head at the DTM, was profiled as a man who helped out the gang by introducing other bureaucrats to the prostitutes and passing government information. One attachment in the file shows that the membership list for the Italian Businessmen’s Association was handed over to the gang. He introduced another DTM employee, Mustafa Fatih Turhan, to Berge, who described him as a shy man initially but who later opened up. Turhan had worked in various positions at DTM as a department head and deputy general manager. He was the commercial attaché in the Turkish Embassy in Minsk, Belarus, until 2018 and currently works as a senior expert in the Trade Ministry. The note on him says he leaked a document on companies that export to Indonesia. İsmail Hakkı Gökal, another employee of DTM, was described as addicted to sex. He leaked a document on agricultural subsidies provided by the government.
Cumhur Güven Taşbaşı, the then-head of the Tourism Promotion Directorate General (Turizm Tanıtma Genel Müdürlüğü) under the ministry of Culture and Tourism, was described as a daring person and a womanizer who went after any woman in a short skirt. One time, he told the prostitute that he was once caught by the police in Istanbul with a person who had been convicted and barely managed to get out of the jam. He was apparently having sex with a woman in a car when he was deputy governor of Istanbul and got caught by the police. The woman had a criminal record, and the incident was hushed up by the governor’s office. Taşbaşı was hired in 2019 by Istanbul Mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu to lead the newly established Istanbul Tourism Platform after the local elections, which shifted the municipality to the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP).
Erdoğan Yıldırım, a retired officer who works for the government watchdog communications agency, the Information Technologies and Communication Authority (Bilgi Teknolojileri ve İletişim Kurumu, or BTK), was profiled as a man who had a large archive of secret government documents. “He maintains ties with his friends who work at the General Staff and the National Security Council,” the note about him states. He was marked as a great candidate for obtaining confidential information.
İlhami Aktaş, the department head of training and staff services (Personel ve Eğitim Hizmetleri) of the interior ministry, did not inspire much confidence in the gang, according to his profile note. He was a promising candidate for the gang when he was working in human resources at the ministry. He used his ties to Efkan Ala, the then-undersecretary of the prime ministry and later interior minister, to climb up the ladder in the government. Aktaş is currently the governor of Turkey’s Central Anatolian province of Nevşehir.
Mehmet Baykara, a tax auditor for the government, was said to be a person who made quick progress in the honey trap scheme. The prostitute described him as a person who considered her the woman he used to love during his university years. “I think soon he’ll be in the shape we want,” Berge’s note said.
Metin Akduman, deputy director of the Central Bank of Turkey, was described as a quiet man whom Berge said was already in her pocket. “This man can provide any document about central bank employees,” the note says. An attachment indicates that she had already obtained a list of 6,000 names with phone numbers and addresses from him.
Murat Soylu, the deputy governor of Karaman province, was said to be cooperating very well with the gang. “He has become very fond of me. I do whatever he wants. It would be great if he gets assigned to headquarters [of the interior ministry]. A megalomaniac who thinks he’s number one. I also think he’s a pervert,” Berge says about him in the profile note. Soylu was later appointed to the interior ministry’s legal department and currently serves as deputy governor of Ankara.
Murat Zorluoğlu, the head of a department at the interior ministry, was described as a charismatic person who was leaking information about corruption in the municipalities. “According to him, there is pervasive corruption in the municipalities. He knows whom the interior minister protects and who gets thrown under the bus and shares all that information with me,” the note says. Zorluoğlu had served in various capacities in the ministry’s departments overseeing local governments, investigations, projects and external relations between 2003 and 2012. He was the governor of Van in 2017 and also took over the role of mayor when the government ousted the elected mayor from the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP). In March 2019, he was elected mayor of Trabzon in northeastern Turkey after President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan nominated him as a candidate in the local elections.
Mustafa Hulusi Arat, a legal counselor working for the interior ministry, was thought of as a man with huge potential for the gang. He worked as a district governor in Ankara’s Çankaya district and was very well connected there, according to the description. He currently serves as deputy governor in the western province of Aydın.
Ömer Faruk Cenk, an expert with the treasury, supplied two documents, one on internal communications within the treasury and the other an inspection report about power distribution company Uludağ Elektrik Dağıtım. “He gave me the Treasury’s communications. The documents he brought to me will be very useful,” the note says. He currently works as an expert for the Finance and Treasury Ministry, led by President Erdoğan’s son-in-law Berat Albayrak.
Özgur Aslan, deputy governor of Erzurum at the time, was described as a mystery man but a promising character. He leaked an inflated invoice about books sold to government employees. Aslan currently works as an interior ministry investigator.
Süleyman Ovalı had been a frequent visitor for sex since he was district governor in the city of Hanak, located in Turkey’s northeastern province of Ardahan. “We can get him into a routine, or send him the [sex] tape,” the note states about him. He is now retired from government service. He was later promoted to deputy governor of Bingöl province.
Süleyman Elban, a department head at the interior ministry, was also flagged as a frequenter for sex. “He says he’s the most knowledgeable person about complaints against and corruption in municipalities,” the note about him states. Elban is currently governor of the northeastern province of Ağrı.
Yaşar Taştemür, an investigator for the Turkish Public Employment Agency (Iskur), was described as a man who helped the gang in European Union-sponsored projects and was influential in government tenders.
There were several military men who were trapped in the scheme as well. They had already been converted into assets that leak information or would do so in the future, according to the seized notes. For example, Engin Çırakoğlu, a colonel in the gendarmerie, was marked as a source who passed documents circulated by the General Staff Communication, Electronic and Information Systems (Muhabere, Elektronik ve Bilgi Sistemleri, or MEBS). He was indicted and jailed for leaking classified documents. Yet the government promoted him to brigadier general in 2016. He is currently the head of the MEBS unit in the gendarmerie.
Doğan Tanyıldız, an officer in the Turkish military, was described as a cheerful man who suffered from a hearing loss. He regularly meets women online, the note stated. Tanyıldız retired from the service in 2013 and currently works as investment advisor in property development firm Bumerang Global in Izmir. Maj. Ekrem Serdar Erden was described as a man who fully complies with the gang’s directives. “He brought the voice recordings of Col. Oğuz Kuzimamlar. We can make use of these recordings,” the note explains. He is now commander of a garrison in the northwestern city of Bozcaada.
Hakan Küçükılgaz, an officer, was described as a man who was very much concerned that his wife could learn about his visits to the prostitute. A perfect mark for the gang, which could blackmail him with the release of sex tapes to his wife if he was not willing to leak documents.
Noncommissioned officer İsmail Koyuncuoğlu was flagged as a man who could provide information about the navy ship he worked on. About Mustafa Bal, a noncommissioned officer, the note states: “He drinks alcohol. I think he is an alcoholic. One time when he drank too much, he started spilling what he had been keeping to himself.” In describing Lt. Metin Yıldız the note says: “We should monitor this man. He can be useful.” Concerning Murat Durmaz, another noncommissioned officer, Berge wrote: This man is a little strange. He tells me that he beats his wife. He says his sex life with his wife is very bad. He says he gets relaxed when he meets me.”
Berge’s portfolio also included a government medical doctor named Mehmet Altunok, who was fixing medical reports and was said to be quite useful to the gang. Mete Akbaş, a military officer; Barış Erel, a deputy tax auditor; Döndü Şahin, a government employee; and Kenan Göztepe, an assistant, were among those who were marked and profiled by the gang.
Berge was indicted on multiple charges because of her involvement in the gang, which used sex to obtain classified information and engaged in invasion of privacy, extortion, blackmail, prostitution and organized crime.
The first wave of arrests was launched on May 9-10, 2012 at the order of prosecutors, and additional criminal evidence was gathered from the homes and offices of suspects during the execution of search and seizure warrants. More arrests that included Berge were made after further evidence was obtained from the suspects and their homes and workplaces. In the end 357 suspects including 55 active duty officers and numerous retired officers were indicted when the prosecutor filed criminal charges against the gang in 2013.
The investigation was initiated after police in Izmir received a tip on August 10, 2010 that informed the authorities about a sex trafficking and human smuggling network that was involved in blackmail, prostitution, privacy violations and other criminal activities. The investigators had worked on the case for two years, obtained wiretaps from the courts and ran surveillance on suspects to decode the network.
It turned out the gang was much more than a sex trafficking network and resembled more of an espionage group collecting top secret information from various government and military officials through honey traps, sexual favors or blackmail. Among the thousands of pages of secret documents were classified NATO and FBI documents that were shared with the Turkish government as a member of the alliance.
However, the criminal case against the gang members was quashed by the Erdoğan government, and all the suspects were let go. Many returned to their duties in the Turkish military, while most bureaucrats who were profiled as having sex and leaking information have continued to work for the government.
In the meantime, prosecutors, judges and police investigators who uncovered this massive espionage ring were punished either by dismissal or arrest on trumped-up charges.