Turkey’s diapora agency, the Presidency for Turks Abroad and Related Communities (Yurtdışı Türkler ve Akraba Topluluklar Başkanlığı, or YTB), has engaged in clandestine operations, official documents have revealed.
According to auditing reports dated September 2018 and obtained by Nordic Monitor, the agency was found to be in violation of several Turkish laws when auditors determined non-compliance with the rules in the use of a special budget item in the amount of TL 9.6 million spent by the YTB in 2017. Defending the violation, the YTB claimed the operations financed by the special budget item were deemed sensitive and urgent and that the relevant documents were kept in a secure room, preventing the auditors from verifying compliance.
The diaspora agency has long been the subject of allegations that it was used by the National Intelligence Organization (MIT) and the office of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to run espionage operations abroad under the pretext of helping Turks in expatriate communities. The documents appear to have confirmed the allegations as the item under the special budget was spent secretly and without complying with the accounting and expenditure rules required by law.
The auditors with the Court of Accounts discovered in what was described as the “special dispensation budget” that YTB officials did not include receipts or other supporting documents with the payment orders issued by the YTB administration in violation of guidelines on public expenditures. The bookkeeping of the YTB is done without supporting documentation showing what the payment was for. According to regulations on central budget spending documents, the YTB was required to include two copies of invoices and other supporting documents with the payment orders issued by YTB management.
The YTB defended the practice, claiming that the documents on special budget expenditures were kept in a secure room. However, this made it difficult for auditors to match the accounting items to the documents as they found no tracking numbers to identify which expenditure was made by whom and for what.
The auditors also found that the YTB did not follow the guidelines listed in three laws (Nos. 5018, 4734 and 4735) on public tenders and accounting rules when it spent the funds on the special budget. When asked for an explanation, the YTB invoked the “sensitivity and urgency” of the operations abroad. However, the auditors countered that argument, saying Turkish laws are very clear and that YTB funds are not exempt from tender and accounting rules even if the money was spent from a special budget.
The YTB promised to work on compliance in the future, but the auditors said the same argument was made in previous years when the YTB budget was audited and that there had been no progress since then. The YTB spent TL 335 million in 2017 according to the audit report. It also received TL 40 million from the UN, the EU and other international donors as part of a programs to help refugees.
On Oct. 26, 2018 Erdoğan appointed a 34-year-old man named Abdullah Eren to be head of the YTB as part of his plans to turn the agency into a branch of his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). Eren was deputy head of the AKP Istanbul youth branch and worked to extend the AKP’s tentacles into the Balkans, a region he is familiar with as someone who was born in the Komotini area of Greece where minority Turks live.
The AKP Istanbul youth branch has for years functioned as a special operations hub for Erdoğan to network with Muslim and Turkish diaspora groups all over the world. Eren was a key operative in building alliances and finding people who might be helpful to the Erdoğan regime in promoting his brand among diaspora communities.
It was certainly no coincidence that Eren was groomed to be an operative for the Erdoğan regime. He was selected, like many others, from the Turkish community in Western Thrace, from where the Turkish spy agency often draws recruits, after his family proved to be loyal to the interests of the Turkish state. His uncle is Hakan Çavuşoğlu, who served as deputy prime minister and is still a key senior official in the Erdoğan government in crafting Turkey’s policies toward the Balkan states. The uncle, whose portfolio included the YTB, brought Eren into the position as interim head of the YTB, moving him from an advisory position at the Prime Ministry to command a key agency.
Incidentally, Eren’s brother, İbrahim Eren, is a close friend of Erdoğan’s son Bilal; the two have known each other since high school. The Turkish president brought Ibrahim in to head Turkey’s state-owned TRT network. The Eren brothers’ father, Halit Eren, is director of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation’s (OIC) Istanbul-based Research Center for Islamic History, Art and Culture (IRCICA), which is funded by Turkey. Abdullah Eren had also worked at the Foundation for Political, Economic and Social Research (SETA), a government propaganda think tank charged with the task of whitewashing what Erdoğan does. SETA is known to function as an entry point for government jobs.
According to the leaked emails of Berat Albayrak, Erdoğan’s son-in-law, the YTB was overwhelmingly staffed by Islamists. An email sent to Albayrak on November 29, 2013 by Mithat Cansız, general manager of the state-owned Turkish Petroleum International Company (TPIC) and Albayrak’s friend, revealed that 70 percent of staff members of the YTB came from a political Islamist background and had some connection in the past with the Islamist Felicity Party (SP). That was before a massive purge in the Turkish government that resulted in the dismissal of over 130,000 civil servants. It would appear that the unlawful purge on fabricated charges left the YTB completely in the hands of Islamists.