Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan tried to secure a Schengen visa from embassies of European Union member states in Ankara for a Saudi national who was listed as an al-Qaeda financier by the US and UN for years.
According to secret documents obtained by Nordic Monitor, Erdoğan’s chief of staff Hasan Doğan talked to several embassies in Ankara to secure a visa for Yasin al-Qadi, an Egyptian-born Saudi national who was at one time flagged by the US Treasury and the UN al-Qaeda sanction committee. Most embassies rejected the request, which was said to be endorsed by Erdoğan himself. The Finnish Embassy signaled it might consider the application, but the decision was delayed pending instructions from Helsinki on how to proceed.
The proposal to secure a Schengen visa for al-Qadi was first made by Mustafa Latif Topbaş, a businessman close to Erdoğan and al-Qadi’s partner in secret dealings in Turkey. Al-Qadi was moving large amounts of money to Turkey in a joint venture with Topbaş and Erdoğan’s son Necmeddin Bilal Erdoğan 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.
Al-Qadi was coming to Turkey, and Topbaş planned to take him on a trip to Spain, with the next stop being Morocco. Since he needed a Schengen visa for Spain, Topbaş wanted to get one for him using Erdoğan’s influence with foreign embassies in Ankara.
The secret wiretap transcript of a call between Mustafa Latif Topbaş and Hasan Doğan, recorded on November 8, 2013 at 11:12:topbas5
What they didn’t know was that Turkish investigators were monitoring the communications of al-Qadi, Topbaş and Doğan, who were listed as suspects in an ongoing probe being pursued by prosecutors. The wiretaps were authorized by an Istanbul court on October 18, 2013 in case file No. 2012/656.
In the first wiretap recorded on November 7, 2013 at 21:56, Topbaş talked to al-Qadi on the phone, asking for his itinerary in Turkey and suggesting that he could get him a visa in Turkey. The next day Topbaş called Doğan to tell him a Schengan visa was urgently needed for al-Qadi. The two were careful not to mention al-Qadi’s name, apparently fearing that the phone conversation could be intercepted. Instead, Topbaş referred to him as a “Saudi friend,” which was immediately acknowledged by Doğan, who had arranged private meetings between Erdoğan and al-Qadi during the latter’s prior travels to Turkey.
The secret wiretap transcript of a call between Mustafa Latif Topbaş and Hasan Doğan, recorded on November 8, 2013 at 16:01:topbas4
Al-Qadi was still on the UN and US lists and by law was barred from entering Turkey or investing in any business pursuant to UN Security Council resolutions 1267 and 1989 concerning Al-Qaida and associated individuals and entities when some of the secret meetings held between Erdoğan, the then-prime minister, and al-Qadi, with the chief of staff arranging the meeting details between the two. Al-Qadi was later removed from the UN list, followed by the US Treasury delisting his name.
Topbaş explained to Doğan on the phone that al-Qadi had a Saudi passport, not a Turkish one, and that he needed a Schengen visa within two days from his arrival in Istanbul on Monday. The two planned to go to Spain on Thursday. Doğan said he would make some calls, get back to Topbaş soon and try to secure a visa for al-Qadi.
The secret wiretap transcript of a call between Mustafa Latif Topbaş and Hasan Doğan, recorded on November 11, 2013 at 21:23:topbas3
The same afternoon Doğan called back and told Topbaş that his associates at the Office of the Prime Minister were trying to get a Schengen visa from the Greek Embassy. He said he needed passport details for the embassy and wanted to get them before the passport was sent to the office on Monday night or early Tuesday after al-Qadi arrived in Turkey. The two were again careful to avoid saying al-Qadi’s name on the phone, instead referring to him as “uncle” or by mentioning a chapter from the Quran titled “Yasin.” Topbaş said Erdoğan’s office must already have al-Qadi’s passport details, and Doğan said he would check. Erdoğan’s chief of staff also said he would arrange the pickup of al-Qadi’s passport after his arrival in Istanbul on Monday evening and bring it to Ankara for immediate submission to an EU member state embassy.
On November 11, 2013 at 21:23 Doğan called Topbaş to inform him that their requests to secure a visa for al-Qadi with Greece, Spain and Italy embassies were rejected on the grounds that they only issue visa for Turkish nationals and referred them to embassies in Saudi Arabia for an application from a Saudi national. Doğan described the responses from these three embassies as strange despite the fact that the request came directly from the prime minister’s office.
The secret wiretap transcript of a call between Mustafa Latif Topbaş and Hasan Doğan, recorded on November 11, 2013 at 21:35:topbas2
Moreover, Erdoğan’s chief of staff claimed that the Finnish ambassador had agreed to accept the application. Topbaş asked whether Finland was a member of the European Union and if it could issue Schengen visas, to which Doğan said yes. Topbaş called Doğan 12 minutes later to give contact details such as an address and phone number for al-Qadi that would be submitted with the Schengen application to the Finnish Embassy in Ankara.
Apparently Doğan delegated the visa matter to Hasan Pehlivan, a secret partner in a lucrative Istanbul project that was partially financed by al-Qadi. Pehlivan was also working at the time as a chief advisor at the Prime Ministry Investment Support and Promotion Agency (Başbakanlık Yatırim Destek Ajansı, or ISPAT, which was later renamed the Presidency’s Investment Office). In a wiretap communication dated November 12 at 23:26, Pehlivan briefed Topbaş on the visa application. He told Topbaş that the Finnish ambassador was a close friend of Turkish Ambassador Ahmet Necati Bigalı and that they were exerting all the pressure they could to secure the visa.
Pehlivan further claimed that the Finnish ambassador agreed to grant the visa but warned that she needed to go through procedures and get approval for a Saudi national. The Finnish Embassy would get back to them in the morning, he added. Pehlivan assured Topbaş that he was doing everything he could and in fact had called the Finnish Embassy six times that day.
The secret wiretap transcript of a call between Mustafa Latif Topbaş and Hasan Pehlivan, recorded on November 12 at 23:26:topbas7
Topbaş called Doğan on November 13 at 15:49 to learn what had happened with al-Qadi’s Schengen application and was told that the visa had not yet been issued. Doğan informed him that the Finnish ambassador has been awaiting an email from some Schengen member countries, adding that a Turkish ambassador had personally visited the Finnish ambassador to convey the special request. “The woman [the Finnish ambassador] was saying that was all she could do, making a fuss about it,” Doğan added. Nina Vaskunlahti was serving as ambassador of Finland to Turkey at the time although her name was not mentioned in any of the wiretaps and she was simply referred as the Finnish ambassador.
The secret wiretap transcript of a call between Mustafa Latif Topbaş and Hasan Doğan, recorded on November 13, 2013 at 15:49:topbas1
Frustrated with the result, Topbaş said he would cancel the trip to Spain and asked Doğan to withdraw the application from the Finnish Embassy and get the passport back. Doğan said he would have al-Qadi’s passport picked up from the Finnish Embassy and told Topbaş that it would be better if al-Qadi were to become a Turkish citizen. “For a Turkish citizen, we can get visa from anywhere,” Doğan explained, stressing he was serious about his offer to secure Turkish citizenship for al-Qadi.
Al-Qadi, Doğan and Topbaş were all leading suspects in an organized crime investigation pursued by prosecutors in Istanbul and were the subjects of detention warrants issued on December 25, 2013 by the prosecutors. However, Erdoğan stepped in, illegally preventing the execution of the warrants by ordering the police to not follow the prosecutor’s orders. After the removal of the prosecutors and police chiefs who were involved in their investigation, Erdoğan managed to whitewash the crimes of his associates.
The secret wiretap transcript of a call between Mustafa Latif Topbaş and Yasin al-Qadi, recorded on November 7, 2013 at 21:56:topbas6