Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan secretly ordered the intelligence service to spy on German foundations, according to court documents obtained by Nordic Monitor.
The order came after Erdoğan, then prime minister, accused an unnamed German foundation of indirectly but legally funneling money to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and slammed the German government for indifference to the situation. His remarks were made to reporters on a plane en route to Turkey from Macedonia in October 2011.
Then-Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu also raised similar claims, stating that charitable foundations were funneling money to the terrorist group and that the government was closely monitoring the situation and taking steps to block the transactions. He alleged that German foundations were not the only organizations involved.
“We identified five people who were working for German foundations and who had links to the PKK based on our analysis, which was made under a directive issued by the intelligence department after the prime minister announced that German foundations were aiding the PKK,” Deputy Police Chief Uğur Eski said in a statement to prosecutor Tekin Küçük in Ankara on October 22, 2014.
The intelligence reports on German foundations were presented to the prime minister, Eski stated, suggesting that political directives had led to the surveillance.
Eski, who was serving as deputy in the E-section of the police intelligence department in Ankara at the time, initially said five people were wiretapped after an authorization was obtained from the court. Among them were Yonca Verdioğlu Şık and Semahat Sevim Şar, who were working as project coordinators for the Heinrich Böll Foundation, a German political foundation that is affiliated with the German Green Party, he noted. More people were added to the wiretap surveillance, while some were later removed, Eski noted.
According to his statement Verdioğlu Şık, the wife of journalist-turned-politician Ahmet Şık, had been wiretapped for a long time. This wiretapping had continued even after the chief officers in the intelligence branch changed following the Gezi Park anti-government protests in the summer of 2013, Eski recalled, adding that the reports compiled from the wiretaps were submitted to Erdoğan.
The wiretap authorizations were made under the police powers law (Polis Vazife ve Salahiyet Kanunu, or Law on Police Duties and Entitlements PVSK), Eski said in his defense against claims of illegal wiretapping. It was part of preventive measures authorized by the law, he added.
A disciplinary board at the police department dismissed the allegations on the grounds that wiretaps were authorized by the courts and part of the job description under the PVSK law.
Eski and others in his unit were made the fall guys in 2014 and faced prosecution despite the fact that it was Erdoğan who had ordered the surveillance. Eski was detained in October 2014 and later dismissed from his job.
The campaign against German foundations picked up steam again in March 2017 with the pro-government Yeni Şafak daily stating in a headline story that Turkish authorities would launch an investigation into German foundations in Turkey, claiming that these organizations were involved in intelligence gathering under the cover of a foundation.
The newspaper claimed the real blow to the German Federal Intelligence Service (BND)-affiliated foundations operating in every part of the country would be dealt following an April 16 referendum in which a constitutional reform package was to be put to a vote.
“Most of the 22 foreign foundations that operate in Turkey belong to Germans, and the involvement of these foundations in many terrorist group acts is striking,” the daily wrote without offering any evidence to support the allegations.
Another pro-government daily, Yeni Akit, claimed in a lead story in March 2017 that 51 German foundations including Friedrich Ebert, Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung, Friedrich Naumann Stiftung and Heinrich Böll Stiftung were involved in terrorism targeting Turkey.
In April 2007 A-Haber TV, owned by Erdoğan’s family, ran a series on German foundations operating in Turkey and accused them of supporting terrorism against the country.
The vicious political campaign against German foundations was personally led by Metin Külünk, an Erdoğan confidante and long-time ally who had been accused of running clandestine operations in Germany.