The government of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan recruited former German politicians and bureaucrats as lobbyists and influencers in order to advance policy goals, a secret wiretap has revealed.
The wiretap, obtained with a judge’s approval as part of a corruption investigation into Erdoğan’s inner circle, provides clues to the Islamist government’s strategy and how it tried to hide its operations in Germany as disclosed by İlker Aycı, chairman of national flag carrier Turkish Airlines (THY).
Aycı, the then-president of the Investment Support and Promotion Agency of Turkey (ISPAT) who worked closely with the government, was talking to President Erdoğan’s brother Mustafa Erdoğan about finding a government position for Volkan Ardor, a German national of Turkish origin and a relative of the Turkish president.
Aycı explained that the Erdoğan government had adopted a tactic of hiring native Germans to promote the Turkish agenda in Germany because of what he described as bias against Turks in the German government. He said the Turkish government agency ISPAT, renamed the Presidency’s Investment Office in 2018, carries out its operations on German soil through prominent German figures such as a former Hamburg mayor and a former head of government of the same state for public relations purposes and polishing the image of the Turkish government.
Even Joschka Fischer, the foreign minister and vice chancellor in Gerhard Schroeder’s cabinet from 1998 to 2005, was working for the Turkish government, he added.
Secret wiretap that revealed the Turkish government’s strategy in Germany:Erdogan_lobbyists_germany
Noting that President Erdoğan’s relative may not blend in well with German politicians and former bureaucrats who lobby on behalf of the Turkish government because he’s a Turk, Aycı expressed concerns about brining him into the mix. He claimed Turkey had enlisted politicians from the Green Party and the Christian Democratic Union and added that putting Ardor on a team of high-profile Germans would create problems in Germany.
Instead Aycı offered a position for Erdoğan’s relative at THY or the Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency (TİKA) without attracting any attention from either the Germans or the Turkish opposition, which was raising concerns of nepotism in the Erdoğan government at the time. He also expressed concern that the German government might identify Ardor as a person who is close to Erdoğan’s family by virtue of their blood relation.
Other wiretap records show that Aycı personally met with Volkan while he was in Germany and that Volkan was apparently in consultation with President Erdoğan, then the prime minister, about his job placement. In an email he sent to Aycı, Volkan wrote: “I want to work at the agency [ISPAT] and have already talked with beyefendi [referring to Erdoğan]. My uncle [again referring to Erdoğan] told me to work, and so please give me a job as soon as possible.”
The Erdoğan government has used similar tactics in the US, where it paid more than $30.5 million to influence US policy or public opinion on behalf of Turkish interests during the Trump administration, according to a report in July 2021 by the independent NGO Open Secrets. Among those enlisted as lobbyists by Turkey was Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s former personal attorney and former New York City mayor.
Turkey also signed a contract with a lobbying firm Ballard Partners, whose president, Brian Ballard, was vice chair of Donald Trump’s inaugural committee and was a member of his transition team. Another lobbyist, Mercury Public Affairs, which had deep ties to Trump, also signed a contract with the Erdoğan government.
Michael Flynn, Trump’s former national security adviser who was forced to resign soon after the 2017 inauguration, also had ties to Turkey and got into trouble over them.
Ali İhsan Arslan, a close confidant of the Turkish president and a deputy from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), hired a former senior adviser to the Trump campaign, lobbyist Barry Bennett.
Many of the lobbyists who were recruited by the Erdoğan government in the US have faced investigation by the federal government on alleged violations of the Foreign Agent Registration Act (FARA).
Aycı was a suspect in major corruption investigation that was pursued by prosecutors in Istanbul. He was identified as a key operative who facilitated the investments and private businesses of one-time al-Qaeda financier Yasin al-Qadi, with whom Aycı had been in frequent contact.
Aycı was involved in setting up the ruling AKP’s İstanbul office and was also a consultant to Erdoğan during the latter’s term as mayor of İstanbul between 1994 and 1998. Al-Qadi is an Egyptian-born Saudi national who was at one time flagged by the US Treasury and the UN al-Qaeda sanction committee.
Al-Qadi, Aycı and Erdoğan’s son Bilal were leading suspects in the investigation 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 ignore the prosecutor’s orders. After the removal of the prosecutors and police chiefs who were involved in the investigation, Erdoğan managed to whitewash the crimes of his associates.