The Turkish Embassy in Abuja has spied on one of Nigeria’s best school networks as well as a prominent hospital, both owned and operated by critics of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, documents obtained by Nordic Monitor have revealed.
According official correspondence sent by the embassy in Abuja to headquarters in Ankara, Turkish diplomats have collected information on Nigerian organizations and listed their names as if they were part of a criminal enterprise. The campaign of intelligence gathering and profiling of critics and their organizations by the Turkish Embassy in Abuja follows a similar pattern seen in other diplomatic missions Turkey maintains in foreign countries.
The move, which is unprecedented in scale and intensity, created an uproar in many parts of the world, including Europe, where Turkish diplomats came under increased scrutiny. In one extreme case, Swiss prosecutors launched a criminal probe and issued arrest warrants for two Turkish Embassy officials for attempting to kidnap a Swiss-Turkish businessman who was critical of Erdoğan’s repressive Islamist regime in Turkey.
Among the organizations listed were Nigerian Tulip International Colleges (NTIC), one of the best-performing school networks in the country, with numerous awards in international science competitions. It has been operating in Nigeria since September 1998. NTIC has a total of 16 educational institutions located in Abuja, Kano, Lagos, Kaduna, Yobe and Ogun states with a staff of over 1,000 and a student body of more than 4,000. NTIC has been named the top school by the National Mathematical Centre (NMC) and the Ministry of Education in math, physics, chemistry, biology and information communications technology (ICT).
The Turkish Embassy note also profiled the Nizamiye Hospital, an Abuja-based state-of-the-art medical facility with an experienced medical staff including leading surgeons in their fields, with an emphasis on cardiac surgery. The hospital is popular among local residents, and Nigerian Minister of State for Health Dr. Osagie E. Ehanire visited the hospital in March 2017 and signed an agreement to expand cooperation in health care.
Another institution that was spied on by Turkish diplomats was the private Nile University of Nigeria, which was set up by philanthropists who were involved with the NTIC foundation. The university has faculties in engineering, management, law, natural and applied sciences, health, art and social sciences. Both the educational and health institutions were run by the umbrella First Surat Group, which was also profiled by the embassy.
The embassy note shows Turkish Embassy officials also targeted Abinat (the Association of Investors and Businessmen of Turkey and Nigeria). The embassy described Abinat’s efforts to develop business ties between Turkey and Nigeria by organizing trips for businesspeople as if they constituted criminal activity. The embassy also listed the banks with which Abinat had worked, profiled its management and listed their phone numbers in its note. The embassy informed Ankara that Abinat had organized a business trip in November 2016 to develop Nigerian trade relations with European countries including Austria, Poland, Hungary and Slovakia. The association scaled back its operations after business partners in Turkey were targeted by abusive criminal investigations, with some unlawfully jailed on dubious charges.
Under orders from Turkey’s Islamist government, Turkish diplomats also spied on a civic organization, the Ufuk Dialogue Foundation, which is active in interfaith and intercultural activities, with a special focus on countering violent extremism. Ufuk has been involved in partnership with various Nigerian institutions including the Institute for Peace and Conflict Resolution (IPCR) under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the National Defence Academy (NDA), the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture, the National Council of Women’s Societies (NCWS) and the Federal Ministry of Youth and Sports.
The people and organizations that were spied on by the Turkish Embassy are believed to be affiliated with a civic group led by Fethullah Gülen, a US-based Muslim cleric who has become a vocal critic of Erdoğan for pervasive corruption in the government and the Turkish regime’s clandestine support for armed jihadist groups including the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and al-Qaeda.
The Turkish president turned against the Gülen movement after major corruption investigations in December 2013 that incriminated Erdoğan, his family members and his business and political associates. A month later, in January 2014, an exposé of illegal arms shipments by Turkish intelligence to jihadists in Syria in 2014 created further troubles for the Erdoğan government for covertly fueling a civil war in the neighboring country.
The order to spy on Gülen-affiliated people and organizations came in early 2014, and volunteers of the movement were targeted with criminal prosecutions on fabricated charges of terrorism. In July 2016 Erdoğan staged a false flag coup to set up the opposition, including the movement, for mass persecution, pushed the army to invade northern Syria and declared himself the imperial president of the new Turkey.
The Turkish Embassy note, transmitted to Turkey from Abuja, was among Foreign Ministry documents that were later sent to the Turkish police department to build a case against critics of the Erdoğan regime. Those who were listed in these embassy documents were often targeted by a campaign of intimidation and harassment and denied consular services abroad, while their relatives and friends back in Turkey risked the possibility of jail time, asset seizure and persecution on fabricated criminal charges.
The collection of data, amounting to refugee spying or unlawful intelligence gathering by embassy and consulate officials, was carried out upon receipt of requests from the Anti-Smuggling and Organized Crime Department of the Turkish National Police (Kaçakçılık ve Organize Suçlarla Mücadele Daire Başkanlığı, or KOM). According to Turkish law KOM has no jurisdiction abroad and is not authorized to conduct espionage overseas. The information notes sent by the embassy were later incorporated into a report by KOM on Jan. 30, 2017 and were used in the criminal prosecution of government critics on terrorism charges.
The report that included Foreign Ministry intelligence documents was used in several indictments in what was seen as a blatant abuse of the criminal justice system by the Turkish government as part of a crackdown on critics, opponents and dissidents who had nothing to do with terrorism. Some of the accused were jailed for months and even years in some cases without a formal charge, indictment or trial. It also shows how unlawful information gathering by the Turkish Embassy in Abuja was incorporated in the mass persecution of critics back in Turkey.
For example, the profiling data collected on Nigerian organizations by the Turkish Embassy was used as evidence in a case involving 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, is owned and operated by businesspeople who are seen as affiliated with the Gülen movement.
A funds transfer in the amount of $400,000 in 2014 between Surat Education Limited and Kaynak Holding in 2014 in three separate wires as part of business transactions over the delivery of school supplies, books and educational materials was considered by the Erdoğan government to be criminal evidence. Nordic Monitor’s investigation found that Surat ordered some books and educational materials. There was nothing illegal about it as it was recorded in the company’s books as part of the business transaction.
Yet a report prepared by Turkey’s Financial Crimes Investigation Board (MASAK), an agency that was often used by the Erdoğan government to investigate critics and their companies on criminal pretexts, listed the legitimate transaction as criminal activity. The report was compiled by MASAK on May 13, 2015 under file No. 2015/MAR (62) after the Ankara Public Prosecutor’s Office tasked the agency with investigating Kaynak on Feb. 2, 2015 as part of case No. 2014/75025.
Hundreds of people and dozens of firms were dragged into the investigation in what was seen as a crackdown on Turkey’s largest publisher and supplier of educational materials. Some 800 authors were victimized when the government cancelled book contracts after the seizure of Kaynak, and millions of textbooks including some on foreign language skills were destroyed by authorities after the takeover.
Among those investigated in this case file was Ekrem Dumanlı, the former editor-in-chief of Zaman, Turkey’s largest national newspaper that was unlawfully seized by the government in March 2016 as part of a crackdown on the critical media. Dumanlı has been forced to live in exile along with 150 other journalists who had to flee to avoid wrongful imprisonment.
The Erdoğan government brands all of its critics as terrorists, and 231 journalists are currently locked up in Turkish jails on terrorism charges, making Turkey the world’s leading jailer of journalists. Over 30 percent of all Turkish diplomats, 60 percent of all senior police chiefs, half of all military generals and some 30 percent of all judges and prosecutors in Turkey were also declared terrorists overnight by the executive decisions of the Erdoğan government without any effective administrative investigations and certainly without any judicial proceedings.
In July 2017 German newspaper Die Zeit reported that Turkey had handed Germany a list of 68 companies and individuals suspected of links to terrorism due to alleged ties to the Gülen movement. It was also revealed that nearly 700 German firms including industry giants Daimler and BASF were being investigated for the “financing of terrorism,” lodged with Interpol by Turkey. After Germany reacted strongly to the witch-hunt and threatened economic sanctions, Turkey backed down and claimed that it was simply a miscommunication.
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. The 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 who were seen as close to the movement.
The government of President Erdoğan has come under intense scrutiny in recent years over rights violations and the jailing of political opposition members, human rights defenders, journalists and representatives of civil society organizations.