Two government finance experts who worked for the Turkish Finance Ministry’s tax authority were imprisoned because they investigated the finances of companies and operatives connected to Iranian intelligence.
Tax inspectors Mehmet Sunar and Mehmet Şenturk, who were working for the Tax Inspection Board Directorate ((Vergi Denetim Kurulu) in Istanbul, were appointed by a Turkish prosecutor as experts in reviewing the finances of entities and individuals suspected to have been funded by Iranian intelligence. The assignment, duly authorized under Turkish law, was made by public prosecutor İsmail Tandoğan, who was looking into Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Quds Force activities in Turkey as part of a counterterrorism investigation.
The prosecutor notified the tax authority in Ankara on May 3, 2012 about the assignment of the finance experts from Istanbul who would be helping him in the criminal investigation under relevant tax laws and regulations. The experts were told by both the prosecutor and police chiefs to look into the financial aspect of the investigation of the Quds Force network, locally known as Selam Tevhid, which had been designated as a terrorist entity by the Supreme Court of Appeals.
The experts reviewed the finances, property registrations and tax filings of entities and individuals suspected of having connections to the Quds Force between 2000 and 2012. Although the banking and finance documents did not reveal the entire scheme of how Quds Force operatives moved funds between Turkey and Iran, they nevertheless provided significant clues as to how they tried to project their dealings as legitimate under various schemes. Coupled with wiretaps and surveillance by the police, the investigators had a better understanding of the money trail with the help of the finance experts.
Prosecutor’s secret letter authorizing the tax inspectors to probe the finances and assets of Iranian intelligence-linked entities and individuals in Turkey:Tax_audit_authorization_secret_letter
For example, key Quds Force suspect Naser Ghafari, posted as a diplomat at the Iranian Consulate General in Istanbul, regularly received some 4,500 euros each month in salary from Bank Mellat’s Istanbul branch. The wiretaps and surveillance records in the investigation file painted a completely different picture of Ghafari, who forged deals worth millions of dollars, tried to set up fake trade schemes using Turkish lender Halkbank and took care of Turkish operatives.
The Quds Force investigation, which was expanded to encompass senior government officials, including two chief aides of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, with new leads and evidence unearthed, was branded as a hoax by Erdoğan and his cabinet, part of a systematic and deliberate campaign to undermine the investigation, discredit the prosecutors and police chiefs and frame it as a plot to oust the government.
Funds deposited by the Iranian Consulate General to the Bank Mellat account of Nasar Ghafari, a Quds Force operative in Turkey:Naser_Ghafari_bank_transactions
The investigation originally started in Istanbul in 2010 when Kamile Yazıcıoğlu, the wife of top Quds Force operative Hüseyin Avni Yazıcıoğlu, a convicted felon, blew the whistle on her husband and exposed his secret work with Iranian handlers. As the inquiry deepened, Turkish investigators discovered that some senior government officials, including two chief aides of then-Prime Minister Erdoğan, were also implicated for their links to Iranian intelligence.
Panicked about the exposé, Erdoğan rushed to hush up the case in February 2014, branded the investigation a hoax and orchestrated the dismissal and/or imprisonment of the prosecutors, judges and police chiefs who had merely been doing their jobs in line with the Turkish Penal Code in the course of the investigation into the Quds Force network.
Irfan Fidan, the new prosecutor, personally selected by Erdoğan to torpedo the Quds Force probe, dropped all the charges against Iranian and Turkish nationals who were identified as part of Quds Force cells. Fidan also launched a new criminal case against everyone who was involved in the investigation into the Quds Force and ordered the detention of finance experts Şenturk and Sunar on June 30, 2015.
In their statements to Fidan, both experts presented prosecutor Tandoğan’s orders authorizing them to run the tax and financial inquiry into Quds Force-linked entities and individuals. They rejected any allegations of irregularity. In fact, an administrative investigation ordered by Fidan into the conduct of Şenturk and Sunar confirmed that the finance experts did everything by the book. An internal inquiry report, prepared by Kazım Okan Erol on June 3, 2015 cleared the experts and verified that they did not violate any laws or regulations while investigating individuals and entities identified in the criminal probe.
Turkish Finance Ministry report cleared the tax inspectors, confirming that they did their investigation in line with Turkish laws and regulations while investigating Iranian intelligence-linked persons and entities:Finance_Ministry_report_cleared_experts_Redacted
Fidan was rewarded by the Erdoğan government for hushing up the probe and appointed as a member of the Constitutional Court in 2020. In the meantime, both experts remain in jail as of today and face multiple accusations based on false charges leveled by loyalist government prosecutors. Prosecutor Tandoğan was purged from his job along with more than 4,000 judges and prosecutors in 2016 and faces an outstanding arrest warrant.
According to the investigation file, finance experts looked into the finances and assets of 30 individuals including Iranian nationals. They were listed as Nasar Ghafari, Hassan Shabani Ghalvani, Ali Duman, Volkan Çelik, Hüseyin Avni Yazıcıoğlu, Oktay Albayrak, Engin Bilgin, Seccad Yazıcıoğlu, Selçuk Çetin, Erol Ünaldı, Muammer Eker, Hüseyin Avcı, Bekir Erdoğan, Celadettin Yurtoğlu, Kenan Özdil, Özcan Balcı, Bilgehan Ahmet Arslan, Ömer Faruk Kaya, Sadettin Budak, Ahmet Yazıcıoğlu, Amir Moradian, Abbas Sadat Serki, Shahreyar Kamkar, Ramazan Arıkan, Ali Akbulut, Nureddin Şirin, Adem Yerlikaya, Mehmet Şahin, Yilmaz Kadıoğlu and Üzeyir Yiğit.
The entities linked to the Quds Force are listed as follows: Alban Dış Ticaret Limited Şirketi, Akabe Kültür Ve Eğitim Vakfı, Crown Group Import Export Medikal Limited Şirketi, Medyam 14 Radyo Televizyon Yayincilik A.Ş., Şafak Medya Teknolojileri ve Prodüksiyon Yapım Ltd.Şti., Nevis Dış Ticaret Limited Şirketi, Kudüs Tv/Kudüs Medya A.Ş., Ehli Beyt Alimleri Derneği, Rast Radyo-Televizyon ve Medya Hizmetleri A.Ş. and Hilal Radyo ve Televizyon Yayincilik A.Ş.