An intercepted intelligence document alleged that a senior member of Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) government and deputy chair of the Turkish Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee received a $65 million bribe from Qatari intelligence.
Ahmet Berat Çonkar secretly communicated with a Qatari intelligence officer to receive the cash a week before he pushed an agreement that allowed the deployment of Turkish troops to Qatar through the Foreign Affairs Committee. The revelation was made during the testimony of Rear Adm. Sinan Sürer, who was responsible for the external intelligence branch of the Turkish military, officially known as the General Staff Department for First Intelligence Analysis Assessment.
“According to the information obtained from a source, Berat Çonkar communicated with a Qatari intelligence officer before the session [in the Foreign Affairs Committee] to push the law [that allowed the deployment of Turkish military units in Qatar] and received a $65 million bribe,” the intercepted intelligence document said, according to Adm. Sürer.
Çonkar served as chairman of Foreign Affairs Committee between 2014 and 2016 and was in charge of the committee when it approved the bill that allowed the deployment of Turkish troops in Qatar, on March 2, 2015. The intelligence document was picked up by the Turkish spy agency MIT, translated into Turkish and forwarded to all relevant branches of government including the General Staff and the interior and foreign ministries. A copy of the intel landed on the desk of Adm. Sürer.
The intelligence described Çonkar as a pro-Muslim Brotherhood politician who was close to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. He was also a member of the Turkish delegation to the NATO Parliamentary Assembly and prepared reports for the assembly. According to his short bio posted on the Turkish Parliament’s website, Çonkar served as a foreign policy advisor to Erdoğan. He has an MBA from the University of Miami and had worked for American Express Travel Related Services before moving to Turkey. His official web page lists him as co-chairman of the Turkey-EU Joint Parliamentary Committee as well.
Rear Adm. Sinan Sürer’s testimony in court that reveals Qatari intelligence bribed Ahmet Berat Çonkar, chairman of the Turkish Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee:Ahmet_Berat_Conkar_bribe
The bill was officially titled the “Agreement Between the Government of the Republic of Turkey and the Government of the State of Qatar on Cooperation in Military Training, Defense Industry and Deployment of the Turkish Armed Forces in the Territory of Qatar.” The agreement was signed on December 19, 2014 during a visit to Turkey by the Qatari emir, who had first proposed the deal when President Erdoğan was in Qatar September 14-15, 2014. It was presented to the Turkish Parliament for approval on February 10, 2015 and referred to the Foreign Affairs Committee on February 20, 2015.
Çonkar changed the timing of the meeting several times and informed the members of the committee only a day in advance in order to deprive them of adequate time to review the text of the agreement and conduct a detailed examination of it. During the debate in the committee, some members objected to the vague wording in the agreement such as in Article 4, which includes the undefined phrase “any other missions” for the deployment of Turkish troops. It was claimed that the government could expand the scope of the deployment beyond its intended purpose and could very well undermine parliamentary review.
The vague wording was raised by committee member Oktay Ekşi, who said unclear terms were subject to abuse by the executive branch. “We have demanded that this issue be taken into account in the agreements and that the obligations of the two countries be clearly put into the agreement,” he said. Defending the agreement on behalf of the government, Foreign Ministry Deputy Undersecretary Ambassador Ümit Yalçın acknowledged the wide scope if the agreement and said the details would be worked out by military people from both countries. Ekşi said he was not satisfied with the ambassador’s explanation and wanted to put in the record his objections to the vague terms in the agreement.
Full text of the Turkey-Qatar military agreement that allowed the deployment of Turkish troops to Qatar:Qatar_Turkey_military_agreement_deployment
Osman Taney Korutürk, another member of the committee and a former diplomat, also supported the opposition view that the agreement was open to wide interpretation. “This agreement is essentially an interesting one. This agreement is a different agreement than the military cooperation agreements with other countries I have seen during my four years at the Foreign Affairs Committee,” he said, adding, “The sole purpose of this agreement appears to be the deployment of force, and there are some statements in it that are intended to mask that goal.”
Ali Haydar Öner, another member of the committee, questioned the chairman’s motives for bringing the agreement to the committee agenda in an extraordinary meeting and asked why he was rushing. “Our meetings take place on Wednesdays, sometimes Thursdays. As far as I can remember, this is the first time we have convened the committee on a Monday, and the meeting’s start time was changed three times as if we were rushing to smuggle goods out of customs,” he remarked.
Çonkar tried to defend the rush by saying that he had a trip to Lithuania coming up on Wednesday and that the General Assembly had been working late hours. He claimed the change in timing of the committee meeting had nothing to do with the Qatar agreement.
Öner also said there was no indication from the UN or NATO that such a deployment was necessary. He asked the government representative whether a similar agreement was being considered with the United Arab Emirates, a country he described as more strategically located in the Gulf region. Yalçın simply said there was a defense industry cooperation agreement between Turkey and the UAE and that the government was contemplating similar deployment deals with other Gulf countries in the future.
Minutes of the Turkish Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee meeting that shows a heated debate on the terms of the military agreement with Qatar:Turkey_Parliament_Foreign_Affairs_Commission_Minutes_Qatar
In the end, the agreement was approved in the committee with a majority of votes from the ruling AKP. The agreement was also approved in the General Assembly on March 19, 2015 as Law No. 6633. Erdoğan signed the legislation on March 27, and it was published in the Official Gazette the next day.
In his testimony Adm. Sürer said the claim that Çonkar accepted a $65 million bribe was a very serious allegation. “It [the intelligence] did not use ambiguous terms such ‘heard’ or ‘reported’. It said, ‘According the information obtained from a source’.” The revelation of the intelligence document was made in a hearing held on March 21, 2019 at the Ankara 17th High Criminal Court.
The 19-page intelligence document is a translated version of a report prepared by what was believed to be a foreign agent about vulnerabilities in Turkey ahead of the 2015 elections. The report also included findings about Turkish President Erdoğan’s links to jihadist networks including the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), involvement in the ISIS oil trade and the Muslim Brotherhood and other criminal activities.
Prosecutor’s document drafted on August 1, 2016 that recorded the findings in a 19-page secret intelligence document which reveals bribery as well as the Turkish president’s links to ISIS:Search_seizeure_report_Sinan_Surer_office
Sürer brought up the document in his defense because the government media falsely reported that he was the one who prepared the document when in fact it was sent by MIT, which originally intercepted it from a foreign operative. The media only reported the parts that dealt with political developments such as how to support the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) and build alliances with leftist parties and Alevis to weaken Erdoğan’s party. The government-controlled media completely covered up the part about Çonkar receiving a bribe, Erdoğan’s links to ISIS and other damning allegations mentioned in the intelligence document.
In his testimony in court, Sürer explained what the document was all about and how he obtained it, dealing a major blow to the defamation campaign directed against him by the government while exposing the dirty laundry of Erdoğan and his associates. “This document is an official report from MIT. Every word belongs to the National Intelligence Organization. It is an official document submitted to the commanders at the General Staff, including the chief of general staff,” he said.
“As I recall, it came to the headquarters around the end of March or in the beginning of April 2015, about two or three months before the [national] elections. I had no role in preparing this report. I didn’t write it,” Sürer emphasized. After studying the document, he presented his review to head of intelligence Lt. Gen. Mehmet Daysal and Deputy Chief of General Staff Gen. Yaşar Güler and then-Chief of General Staff Gen. Necdet Özel as part of routine paperwork. Güler, currently serving as chief of general staff, even underlined some parts of the document he found important with a green marker.
At the end of the unfair trial that was marred by numerous violations of due process and the right to effective defense, Rear Adm. Sürer was convicted on dubious evidence and ordered to serve 141 life sentences on June 20, 2019. His appeal is still pending.