A classified communiqué from Turkey’s justice ministry obtained by Nordic Monitor reveals how the Turkish government asked the US administration to freeze assets belonging to critics of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and journalists living in the country.
A document dated December 17, 2018 and signed by Gökhan Erdoğan, a judge and head of the Directorate General for International Law and Foreign Relations at the Turkish Justice Ministry, confirmed, with reference to a foreign ministry communiqué dated October 4, 2017, that the government had urged via diplomatic channels the US and other countries to freeze the assets of critics of President Erdoğan who live abroad.
According to the justice ministry document, stamped “secret,” the request was based on a report by the Financial Crimes Investigation Board (MASAK) and included people who were accused of terrorism based on dubious evidence in an indictment, file No. 2014/75025, drafted by the Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office.
MASAK, an agency that was often used by the Erdoğan government to investigate critics and their companies on criminal pretexts, prepared a report in order to list legitimate financial assets and property in accordance with its terrorist financing investigations. The report was compiled by MASAK on May 13, 2015 under file No. 2015/MAR (62) after the Ankara prosecutor’s office tasked the agency with investigating Kaynak Holding on February 2, 2015 as part of case No. 2014/75025. Hundreds of people and dozens of firms were dragged into that investigation.
Justice ministry document that shows Turkish government activities to freeze the assets of critics abroad:US asset seizure_communique
Moreover, the justice ministry had also forwarded an additional 39-page document filed by MASAK with the Ankara prosecutor to reiterate the diplomatic request for the freeze of Erdoğan critics’ assets in the US in accordance with the second chapter of the Turkey-US Extradition and Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters agreement signed in Ankara in 1979. Article 22 of the accord underlines that the requested party might refuse to provide the judicial assistance if an offense is considered to be “a political offense or an offense connected with a political offense.”
Following a coup attempt in July 2016, Turkey also misused the Interpol process to persecute, harass and intimidate critics and opponents living abroad. Similar to the US case, Interpol had to prohibit the use of Interpol’s communications channels to interact on any issue that concerned the 2016 coup attempt in Turkey because it contravened the provisions of Article 3 of Interpol’s constitution. Article 3 “strictly forbids the Organization to undertake any intervention or activities of a political, military, religious or racial character.”
Nordic Monitor previously reported how the assets of exiled critics of President Erdoğan were confiscated and how plunder had become part of the persecution pursued against those people. New documents put forward that the government also carried out several initiatives for the seizure of their assets abroad.
The people who are targeted by the MASAK report are believed to be affiliated with the Gülen movement, an outspoken group that is highly critical of Erdoğan and his allies on a range of issues from pervasive corruption in governance to Turkey’s aiding and abetting of radical Islamist groups.
The 39-page annex file prepared by MASAK included dissident journalists, businessmen, doctors, academics and human rights defenders. According to the document, the Turkish government intended to freeze the assets of journalist Ekrem Dumanlı in the US. Dumanlı, who for years ran Turkey’s one-time best-selling Zaman newspaper, was forced to live in exile in the United States. He had been detained by the police in December 2014 on false charges and later released. He had to flee to avoid new warrants issued for him despite his release.
Zaman, which used to sell 1.2 million copies a day at its peak, was seized by the government in March 2014 on a complaint filed by an al-Qaeda-affiliated, pro-Erdoğan group that claimed the paper had defamed the jihadist group in articles and op-ed pieces. After the government takeover, the paper was turned into a government mouthpiece overnight, with chief editors immediately dismissed and government loyalists brought in to run the publication. The circulation dropped to 4,000 in a week after a major reader backlash, and the government shut it down in July 2016, wiping out decades of work in the newspaper’s archives and taking down its website.
Mustafa Özcan, a businessman who is among the shareholders of several companies that were seized by the Erdoğan government in 2015 and 2016, was also listed in the MASAK documents. He has been the subject of criminal prosecutions because of his links to the Gülen group. The Erdoğan government jailed both his son Enes Özcan and daughter Zehra Bozkurt on fabricated terrorism charges in order to pressure him to return to Turkey.
Kudret Ünal, a medical doctor, is another US resident whose name appeared in the report. Naci Tosun, a shareholder and chairman of the board of directors at Kaynak Holding, was also named in the documents. Kaynak was the largest publisher in Turkey, which was unlawfully seized by the Erdoğan government on fabricated charges of terrorism in November 2015. Kaynak operated 22 major companies under its umbrella.
The MASAK report also included New Jersey resident İsmail Büyükçelebi, an author and expert in Islamic theology. He is also associated with the movement and has been living in the US since the 1990s.
Critics of the Erdoğan government, especially members of the Gülen movement, have been facing surveillance, harassment, 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.
In Turkey, more than a half million people were investigated on fabricated terrorism charges in the aftermath of the 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-Erdoğan 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.
The assets of individuals and entities affiliated with the movement which, according to estimates from Turkey’s Savings Deposit Insurance Fund (TMSF), amounted to $11 billion, were also seized, as were the assets and wealth of critical journalists, depriving them of their livelihood in order to stifle freedom of the press and expression. No figures are available verifying how much personal wealth and how many assets were seized through the Erdoğan government’s use of the partisan judiciary.
The assets and wealth of individuals, corporations and organizations that were seen as affiliated with the movement were branded as war spoils open to plunder. Similar to Nazi Germany, their property was divided up among Erdoğan’s Islamists and their collaborators. The assets of Gülen-affiliated entities such as schools, universities, media outlets, companies and apartment buildings were confiscated or stolen by new owners.
Instead of the Turkish Constitution and the principles of international law, a political Islamist approach with jihadist undertones has become the main source of motivation for Erdoğan’s judges and prosecutors.