The state-run Turkish Cooperation and Development Agency (TİKA) illegally transferred money allocated from discretionary fund to its office in Gaza for the use of Hamas by way of official trips, a senior bureaucrat who worked at the now-abolished Turkish Prime Ministry told Nordic Monitor.
According to the credible source, speaking on condition of anonymity because of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s government ruthless witch hunt against critics and whistleblowers, employees at TİKA who made official visits to Gaza to monitor ongoing projects were paid a travel allowance from secret discretionary funds and they left all the cash at TİKA’s office in Gaza without getting a receipt upon the order of their supervisors.
The source said the money was withdrawn from the state-run Vakıfbank’s branch in the Kavaklıdere district of Ankara and recorded for travel and meal expenses during the trip. The reason for using discretionary funds for an official visit is simply because the employees do not need to submit any invoices or vouchers when they return to the office.
“You just write on a piece of paper that you spent this or that amount of money during the trip and sign it. That’s it. At the end of each year, these records were disposed of according to discretionary fund guidelines,” the source added.
Nordic Monitor contacted a former expert at TİKA who was dismissed in the crackdown following a controversial coup attempt in 2016 and asked whether he had any information about unrecorded money transfers. The expert, currently living in exile in an EU country, said he officially traveled to many destinations including Gaza and carried money to TIKA offices between 2012 and 2016.
“As far as I recall, I went to Gaza three or four times, and each time I withdrew $20,000 from the bank and gave it to Bülent Korkmaz, [TİKA’s former representative in Palestine]. I did not get any document in return. It was how it worked at the time,” he said.
Korkmaz, who worked as TİKA’s Palestine coordinator between 2015 and 2018 was a close associate of Ismail Haniyeh, former deputy chief of Hamas’s political bureau. TİKA and Hamas carried out numerous joint projects including paying subsidies to local Gazans who were selected by Hamas, thanks to the good relations between Haniyeh and Erdoğan that were linked to the latter’s strong support for the Muslim Brotherhood, which welcomed him as the leader of Muslims in the region.
Nordic Monitor has learned that Muhamad Murtaja, former head of the Gaza branch of TIKA, and Mehmet Kaya, the Gaza representative of the jihadist Foundation for Human Rights and Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief (İHH), were working together on how TİKA’s money would be spent in the city.
In 2017 Israeli security forces arrested Murtaja when he was leaving the country for a training seminar in İstanbul, accusing him of diverting TIKA’s aid to Hamas’s military wing. He was sentenced to nine years behind bars in 2018. The Israeli prosecutor also investigated İHH representative Kaya and claimed he gave Hamas leaders cash from Turkey that was earmarked for the Hamas military wing. The İHH was the organizer of the flotilla that aimed to end the naval blockade of the Gaza Strip in 2010, when Israeli commandos attacked one of the vessels, the Mavi Marmara, and killed nine civilians in international waters.
Following Murtaja’s arrest, Israeli authorities seemed to use careful language, avoiding blaming TIKA and its Turkish staff directly and making Murtaja a scapegoat in a political move to avoid a new crisis with Turkey. Israel officially expressed that the investigation showed that Murtaja deceived TİKA by misusing the organization’s resources and funds, a diplomatic message that Israel was aware of the non-transparent money traffic between Hamas and TIKA. Turkey also responded diplomatically that TİKA adhered to collaborative and transparent principles in line with international standards, without escalating the tension. On a side note, Kaya and Korkmaz subsequently left Palestine and returned to Turkey in 2018.
The expert Nordic Monitor contacted confirmed close cooperation between TIKA and the IHH in Gaza as both organizations publicly announced joint projects on their websites. The expert added that delegations to Gaza also met with Kaya, a close friend of then-TİKA Director Serdar Çam.
“I can’t forget one thing from one of my visits when we were taken to an Al-Qassam Brigades center to perform prayers. I was shocked when people with weapons greeted us. It was an official delegation escorted by the embassy,” he said.
The Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades (shortened to Al-Qassam) is the military wing of Hamas and is listed as a terrorist organization by the European Union, the United States and several other countries.
The cooperation between TİKA, the İHH and Hamas is not limited to joint projects in the city. When Israel launched a military operation in the Gaza Strip in 2014, wounded Gazan civilians were transferred by TİKA to Turkey for medical treatment via Egypt. Nordic Monitor sources confirmed that some of the people who were presented as Gazan civilians were Hamas militants whose names were hidden in the hospital records. Two state hospitals in particular were assigned to that mission, one in İstanbul, the Kartal Eğitim Araştırma Hastanesi, and the other in Ankara, Batıkent State Hospital.
Given the fact that TİKA is using discretionary funds that are free of Sayıştay (Court of Accounts) audit, Nordic Monitor has learned that systematic corruption is the normal way of doing business at TİKA. The projects are overestimated on paper so that a small portion of the budget is the actual expense and the rest of the money is shared by bureaucrats at every level.
Meral Akşener, chairman of the opposition İyi (Good) Party and a presidential candidate in 2018, repeatedly claimed that TİKA was spending $4 billion a year without any documentation, adding that the number of employees was not known. She also criticized redundant international projects that did not serve Turkey’s interest but rather those of pro-government contractors.
It is not surprising that TİKA directors were destroying financial documents and temporary statements for discretionary fund spending on the night of the June 7, 2015 election, when Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party lost its parliamentary majority for the first time in 13 years, background that was explained to Nordic Monitor by the sources.