Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has financed and supported schools and other institutions founded by the government-linked Hudayi Foundation in Africa in order to promote his unique brand of Islamic leadership and the Turkish government’s political agenda.
President Erdoğan, to this end, has urged African leaders to back Hudayi Foundation projects on the continent in accordance with his Islamist policies, confidential documents have revealed.
A classified wiretap obtained by Nordic Monitor recorded the private conversation of President Erdoğan and Mustafa Latif Topbaş, a businessman close to Erdoğan and Yasin al-Qadi’s partner in secret dealings in Turkey. Al-Qadi is an Egyptian-born Saudi national and was at one time flagged by the US Treasury and the UN al-Qaida sanction committee.
According to the wiretap, then-Prime Minister Erdoğan called Topbaş in Niamey and asked Topbaş what the Hudayi Foundation needed in Niger, while Erdoğan was paying an official visit to the country. “I think there are friends from the [Hudayi] foundation [in Niamey]. They can contact me,” Erdoğan stated, adding, “I am going to dinner with President [Mahamadou Issoufou].” Erdoğan told Topbaş he would ask President Issoufou to provide land or a building to the Hudayi foundation in Niger. Then, Topbaş confirmed that the foundation representatives would inform Erdoğan of Hudayi’s needs before the official dinner.
Erdoğan then informed Topbaş of his initiatives for land provided by the government of Gabon to Hudayi. “We got land [for the foundation] in Gabon. We can discuss it when I get back. They [the Gabon government] first provided around 2,500 square meters [of land], and then they increased it to 20 acres,” Erdoğan told Topbaş.
Secret wiretap transcript of a call between Erdoğan and Topbaş:Erdogan_topbas_Gabon_niger
The wiretap also revealed that Erdoğan was using the suspects in the major corruption case as a tool for his Islamist policies in Africa.
The wiretap was recorded on January 8, 2013 at 21:07 when Turkish prosecutors were investigating a corruption network that implicated senior government officials including Erdoğan and his family members. The court granted the wiretap authorization on December 12, 2012 in investigation file No. 2012/656.
Al-Qadi was moving large amounts of money to Turkey in a joint venture with Topbaş and Erdoğan’s son Bilal in what was described by Turkish investigators as an organized crime syndicate set up to engage in fraud on a valuable piece of public property in Istanbul using the influence of powerful figures in the government.
The conversation took place on the second leg of Erdoğan’s Africa tour, in January 2013, that included Gabon, Niger and Senegal. During his time in Africa, Erdoğan attended programs organized by schools that were run by the Hudayi Foundation.
According to its web page, Hudayi was established in 1985, has “contributed the efforts of meeting the need for qualified people both in Turkey and around the Muslim World” and carried out projects in African countries such as Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Ethiopia, Ghana, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Somalia, Sudan, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda and Zambia.
The foundation was chaired by Ahmed Hamdi Topbaş, another figure known for his close links to President Erdoğan and a cousin of Latif Topbaş. The Topbaş family is known as one of the main financial supporters of President Erdoğan’s Islamist policies and his ruling party.
In addition to the corruption case, Topbaş was the among well-known Turkish names found in the Panama Papers, which discovered that donations collected by the foundation had been transferred to Swiss bank accounts and also found two offshore shell companies registered to the Topbaş family.
The Panama Papers refer to 11.5 million leaked encrypted confidential documents that were the property of Panama-based law firm Mossack Fonseca. The documents were released on April 3, 2016, by the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung.
Government-linked NGO school projects in Turkey and abroad are funded by Turkish agencies. For instance, Turkey’s Religious Affairs Directorate (Diyanet) and the Aziz Mahmut Hudayi Foundation inaugurated two primary schools and a mosque complex in Ghana, the state-run Anadolu news agency reported. According to Anadolu, the mosque’s cornerstone was laid when President Erdoğan paid an official visit to Ghana in 2016.
Moreover, Ekrem İmamoğlu, Istanbul’s new mayor from the main opposition Republican People’s Party, revealed in August 2019 that prior to his election the city had donated some $3 million to foundations with close government ties. According to the report, the Hudayi Foundation received around $3 million in 2017-2018.