Turkey’s new economy czar, whose portfolio covers state banks and the Treasury, had worked with a known operative of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Quds Force, a confidential investigation revealed.
Nurettin (who also goes by Nureddin) Nebati, a 57-year-old Islamist politician, was identified as a person of interest in a criminal investigation into Quds Force cells in Turkey when police investigators intercepted his communications with an operative identified as Engin Bilgin, a man who was trained, funded and used to collect intelligence by Iran’s secretive network.
According to the case file Nebati was in contact with Bilgin, who ran surveillance of the Israeli and US consulates in Istanbul on behalf of his Iranian handlers, most likely for a possible attack against these diplomatic missions or their staff.
The secret wiretap incorporated into the criminal case file showed that Nebati was in contact with Bilgin, a member of a core cell run by a Quds Force general. He was part of a surveillance team that identified vulnerable points around the US and Israeli consulates in Istanbul. The secret wiretaps showed that Nebati talked to Bilgin, whom he had known for a long time, and helped him overcome problems he had faced.
Investigation case file No.2011/762, obtained by Nordic Monitor, indicates that the police investigators working under authorization from the prosecutors found that the suspects had managed to obtain secret military maps of the southeastern provinces of Adana and Gaziantep and possessed surveillance records from the vicinity of the NATO early warning radar system in Malatya’s Kürecik district.
Secret wiretap of a call between Nurettin Nebati and Quds Force operative Engin Bilgin:Nurettin_Nebati_wiretaP_with_Quds_Force_operative
The IRGC scouted the area around the Çekmece Nuclear Research and Training Center (ÇNAEM) in İstanbul as well as the Israeli and US consulates the same city. The maps collected during the probe have marks and explanations of entry and exit points at the targeted facilities. The cell bought a taxicab so as to not draw attention to the surveillance and looked into the possibility of leasing a flat near the US Consulate General to monitor Americans.
Police discovered that Bilgin was working in a cell led by Hüseyin Avni Yazıcıoğlu — a convicted felon who served time on a terrorism conviction and a top Turkish asset trained in Iran by the IRGC. Yazıcıoğlu was directly reporting his activities to Quds Force Gen. Sayed Ali Akber Mir Vakili and receiving orders from the general during secret meetings.
According to the case file, Nebati and Bilgin spoke on the phone on December 1, 2012 about the problem they encountered in planting a Quds Force asset within the local management of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) in Istanbul’s Çatalca district. The clandestine operation was approved by Yazıcıoğlu, and in the end Bilgin was successfully planted as an informant in the district’s management and started passing insider information to his Quds Force handler.
However, the chairman of the AKP district branch resisted the move, objecting to Bilgin’s assignment to management in an unusual political maneuver. At that point in time, Nebati appeared to sort out the problems and advised Bilgin how to overcome the resistance. The tone of the conversation on the phone suggested that Nebati had known Bilgin for a long time as the two were on a first name basis.
The police monitored Bilgin’s phone communications between 2011 and 2013 and added 38 wiretaps as evidence to the file, which included his conversations with Nebati among others. At the time Bilgin was communicating with Nebati, the wiretap of his phone had been approved by a judge at the Istanbul 13th High Criminal Court. The police also ran physical surveillance of Bilgin, following his car and recording the meetings he held with others.
Bilgin was first flagged in the police investigation in 2010, when Yazıcıoğlu’s disgruntled wife Kamile decided to blow the whistle on her husband and his links to Iranian intelligence after the two had marital problems. The police initially did not pay much attention to the wife’s allegations, and the local law enforcement in Bursa, where she first reported battery by her husband, treated the case as a simple domestic disturbance.
The police investigation file shows how the Quds Force cell ran surveillance on targets in Istanbul that included the US and Israeli consulates:Engin_Bilgin_surveillance
However, when Kamile handed over documents, handwritten notes and digital materials such as flash drives, the police realized the seriousness of the matter and notified the Istanbul police counterterrorism department, which was working on a Quds Force investigation. The police conducted its own independent investigation, wiretapped the Yazıcıoğlus’ phones, ran surveillance on the Iranian handlers and other suspects and verified the wife’s allegations. To the surprise of the investigators, Yazıcıoğlu turned out to be a close friend of Hakan Fidan, head of Turkish intelligence agency MIT.
Kamile identified Bilgin as one of her husband’s contacts and said Yazıcıoğlu, Bilgin and others used to have secret meetings at her house after turning their cell phones off and cranking up the radio to prevent eavesdropping. She also stated that her husband received regular payments from Iran and paid Bilgin and others using this money. Both Bilgin and Yazıcıoğlu took a trip to Iran and hosted Iranian operatives in Turkey, according to Kamile’s sworn statement.
Thirty-eight wiretaps of Engin Bilgin’s phone were included in the criminal case file against the Quds Force network in Turkey:Engin_Bilgin_phone_records_Quds_Force_suspect
The IRGC Quds Force case never went to trial because the Erdoğan government hushed it up in February 2014 after learning about the probe, which incriminated senior government officials. The investigating prosecutor was sacked before he had a chance to secure detention warrants for the suspects and file an indictment. Many Iranian Quds Force agents and their Turkish co-conspirators escaped the long arm of the law thanks to the intervention of Erdoğan, who apparently protected pro-Iranian assets and helped their Quds Force handlers escape from Turkey.
Irfan Fidan, the new prosecutor, personally selected by Erdoğan to torpedo the Quds Force probe, dropped all the charges against the 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 the police chiefs who uncovered the sophisticated Iranian network in Turkey. Fidan was rewarded by the Erdoğan government for squelching the probe and appointed as a member of the Constitutional Court in 2020.
Police monitored Engin Bilgin’s movements and meetings and photographed people with whom he met:Surveillance_records_Engin_Bilgin
In order to hide Nebati’s connection to the Quds Force suspect, Fidan classified Nebati’s intercepted communication as a “state secret” although neither Nebati nor Bilgin held any government position at the time. This bizarre move was exposed in court when police chief Selman Yuyucu, who intercepted the call, told the judges that the classification was totally absurd and in clear violation of the Code on Criminal Procedure.
Yuyucu, who was punished by the Erdoğan government and jailed for exposing the Quds Force network in a three-year-long investigation, also explained in his testimony on June 17, 2018 how Bilgin and other suspects in the Quds Force’s main cell in Turkey had received training in Iran, obtained funds and collected intelligence on the US and Israeli consulates in Istanbul.
Hearing transcript shows police chief Selman Yuyucu, who investigated the Quds Force cell, told the court how the evidence was hushed up by the government:Selman_Yucucu_police_chief_exposed_IRGC_Quds_Force_in_Turkey
Bilgin passed away in November 2015. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan attended his funeral and served as a pallbearer. Nebati also showed up to bid farewell to his old friend and sat in the first row during the service.