The Turkish government used its diplomats in Spain to profile critics of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and gather intelligence about them to help forge a criminal case.
Judicial documents have confirmed that seven Turkish nationals in Spain had been profiled by Turkish diplomats and reported to the Foreign Ministry in Ankara. The information was later used in a criminal indictment for a charge of terrorism by notorious Turkish prosecutor Adem Akıncı.
According to a decision dated December 21, 2018, the Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office launched a separate investigation (file no. 2018/28370) into seven people who were listed in espionage files dispatched by Turkish diplomats in Madrid without any concrete evidence of wrongdoing. They were charged with “membership in a terrorist group” by Akıncı.
Prosecutor Akıncı, who led the investigation into the assassination of Russian Ambassador Andrei Karlov in December 2016, was accused of suppressing the evidence that the killer had links to various jihadist groups including al-Qaeda and was radicalized by several pro-government imams, including two who worked for the government religious authority, the Diyanet. Nordic Monitor previously reported that several suspects told the court that Akıncı had forced them to testify during interrogation that the assassination was directed by the Gülen movement. They were later jailed after declining the prosecutor’s request to testify to that in court.
Judicial document dated December 21, 2018 reveals spying on critics by Turkish diplomatic missions. (The names and addresses of the Turkish nationals have been redacted for security reasons.):
Nordic Monitor previously reported that The Turkish Embassy in Madrid also sent profiling documents about a Spanish organization called Colegios De Educacion Mediterraneo S.L., an educational institution set up by Erdoğan critics. Halit Şahin, the head of Colegios De Educacion Mediterraneo S.L., was also identified in the embassy document as the person in charge. Şahin, a German national of Turkish background, has been living in Spain for a number of years and leading the organization, which was established on June 10, 2011.
The Endaze British International School, a private school that was established in 2014 in Madrid, was also spied on by the Turkish Embassy according to the documents. The school offers a British education to students of all nationalities, from early schooling to primary and secondary school in line with the Cambridge International Curriculum and other methods. The embassy note even tallied the number of students enrolled in the school, which was promoted by Colegios De Educacion Mediterraneo S.L.
In another information note sent to the Anti-Smuggling and Organized Crime Department (Kaçakçılık ve Organize Suçlarla Mücadele Daire Başkanlığı, or KOM) by the Madrid embassy through the Turkish Foreign Ministry, Asociación Hispano Turca, a Spanish-Turkish association, and Casa-Turca, which was set up in 2006 to promote intercultural dialogue and community understanding, were surveilled. They were branded as organizations linked to terrorism.
Profiling files were conveyed to the foreign ministry by Ömer Önhon, the Turkish ambassador in Madrid between 2014 and 2019. Önhon, in an interview with Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency in 2018, said, “Erdoğan is the guarantee of the soul of the republic that was established by Atatürk [founder of Turkey].” Önhon now is director of the international security department at the foreign ministry.
Critics of the Erdoğan government abroad, especially members of the Hizmet/Gülen movement, have been facing surveillance, harassment, death threats and abduction since President Erdoğan decided to scapegoat the group for his own legal troubles. They have often been denied consular services such as power of attorney and birth registry as well as having their passports revoked. Their assets in Turkey are seized and their family members at home risk criminal charges.
The judicial documents once more confirmed that spying activities by Turkish diplomatic missions result in serious consequences in the Turkish judicial system.
As previously disclosed by Nordic Monitor, the foreign ministry sent lists of profiled Turkish nationals in two CDs to the Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office, the national police and Turkey’s intelligence agency MIT on February 19, 2018 via an official document for further administrative or legal action, the punishment of their relatives back in Turkey and the seizure of their assets.
Public prosecutor Akıncı, who received the foreign ministry document on February 23, 2018, forwarded the classified CDs including information on 4,386 Erdoğan critics to the organized crimes unit of the Ankara Police Department for further action. The police conveyed the results of its investigations to the public prosecutor.
According to judicial documents released by the Ankara 4th High Criminal Court on January 16, 2019, the foreign ministry compiled a long list of foreign entities that were owned and/or operated by people who were seen as close to the movement.
Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu confirmed systematic spying on Turkish government critics on foreign soil as by Turkish diplomatic missions in February, 2020. Çavuşoğlu said Turkish diplomats assigned to embassies and consulates have officially been instructed by the government to conduct such activities abroad. “If you look at the definition of a diplomat, it is clear. … Intelligence gathering is the duty of diplomats,” Çavuşoğlu told Turkish journalists on February 16, 2020 following the Munich Security Conference, adding, “Intelligence gathering and information collection are a fact.”