Turkish intelligence agency MIT, then headed by Hakan Fidan, devised a fake assassination plot against the Turkish president’s daughter Sümeyye Erdogan in February 2014 to help restore the popularity of then-prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan when he was dealt a serious blow from a massive corruption exposé only two months earlier.
It was clear to keen observers and analysts of Turkish politics from day one that the plot was fabricated for the benefit of Erdogan, who was heading to critical local elections in March that would test his government’s public support amid the graft scandal. But it took almost a decade to sort the plot out through Turkey’s judicial system and finally obtain several rulings that the plot was in fact a fake.
On Friday, February 20, 2014, three dailies — Akşam, Star and Güneş — owned at the time by Ethem Sancak, a businessman with close ties to Erdogan, simultaneously ran front-page stories alleging that a plan to assassinate Sümeyye before the elections had been discovered through the exposure of private messages between whistleblower Twitter account Fuat Avni — which these dailies claimed was operated by US-based journalist Emre Uslu — and Umut Oran, a lawmaker from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP).
None of the stories in the the newspapers carried a byline, and the claim was attributed to an unknown source who somehow seized private correspondence on Twitter, feeding suspicions that they were published as part of a smear campaign targeting both the Gülen movement, a group that is critical of the Erdogan government, and the CHP.
Uslu denied he was the owner of the Fuat Avni Twitter account and rejected allegations of involvement in such a plot. He said he was targeted with a smear campaign because he was investigating Sümeyye’s role in moving a large amount of cash from her father’s private villa in Istanbul on the day the graft investigation was made pubic by prosecutors. Oran revealed the flight itinerary of Sümeyye, who was instructed by her father to rush to Istanbul to get rid of evidence in case the police raided the villa.
Commenting on the fake murder plot, Oran said, “As our [CHP] chairman Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu said, this is a MIT attack. This is not just an attack against me; this is also an attack on the CHP.” He said the newspapers were used by the intelligence agency to launch a slander campaign against him and his party.
“Why would Umut Oran do this? This is complete nonsense. We know who masterminded these stories. There’s a group within MİT. They work directly for the government. They are doing this. If they continue to do so, we will expose their names,” Kılıçdaroğlu said.
Oran’s lawyer submitted a petition in 2015 to the Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office demanding the prosecution of Sancak, Akşam Managing Editor Onur Demirhisar, Güneş Editor-in Chief Turgay Güler, Güneş Managing Editor Zafer Polat, Star Media publishing executive Murat Sancak, Star Editor-in-Chief Nuh Albayrak, Star daily executive Yücel Koç and Star Managing Editor Filiz Güler.
Criminal complaints filed against pro-government dailies for publishing the fabricated assassination plot:Criminal_Complaints_filed_by_Umut_Oran
According to the plot, it was Fethullah Gülen, a cleric resident in the US who has been the most outspoken critic of Erdogan, who ordered the assassination before the elections. Gülen’s lawyers categorically denied the claims, calling the allegations “immoral slander” that they regretted even having to deny. Gülen, Uslu and Oran all filed criminal cases and civil lawsuits against the people who concocted the scenarios and the publishers who ran the stories.
The five-day campaign by the Erdogan-controlled newspapers fell apart when Oran disclosed official documents provided by Twitter that included his direct message conversations. At the time direct messaging between Avni and Oran was technically impossible since they did not follow each other on Twitter. Some of the messages published in the newspapers also exceeded the maximum allowable limit Twitter had at the time of 140 characters.
Apparently, the people who fabricated this correspondence between Avni and Oran had no knowledge of good English, either. For example, instead of “date” they used “history” to indicate the dates of the correspondence. It was a mistranslation. None of these peculiarities were considered significant, and the newspapers printed all of this nonsense in their headline stories as ordered by the intelligence agency.
But that did not stop the Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office from launching an investigationinto the assassination claims and requesting information on the issue from MIT and and the National Police Department’s intelligence unit. In December 2015 the prosecutor’s office ruled to drop the investigation due to a lack of jurisdiction and transferred the file to the İstanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office.
The Erdogan government stalled the investigation for years. Only in March 18, 2020 did the Istanbul prosecutor’s office decide to drop the investigation into the assassination allegations, filed under investigation No.2015/23458 and ruling No.2020/30487, citing a lack of evidence. The ruling also mentioned that multiple investigations carried out by MIT and the police intelligence, cybercrime and counterterrorism departments had all concluded that there was no evidence to support the assassination claims.
The ruling made clear that the allegations were fabricated, that no suspect with respect to the alleged murder plot had been identified and that the articles published in the pro-government dailies were not true. Although this was obvious from the start and the investigations carried out by the police and intelligence agency showed no evidence of any plot whatsoever, the Erdogan government stalled the probe for five years before ordering the public prosecutor to shut down the case.
The prosecutor’s ruling shows no evidence was found to support the assassination plot, which was apparently fabricated:Non_prosecution_decision_Istanbul_prosecutor
What is more, the government also delayed the investigation into the newspapers for publishing lies. In August 2015 Istanbul prosecutors Hüseyin Parlakkılıç and Mustafa Gökay charged the pro-government Akşam and Güneş dailies with publishing fabricated Twitter conversations. In an 11-page indictment sent to the Bakırköy Second Criminal Court of First Instance, the prosecutors cited an expert report that described the alleged Twitter conversations as an “inept effort to create fake evidence.”
But the Erdogan government immediately stepped in to prevent the case from moving forward by ordering Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK) to launch administrative investigations into these two prosecutors. In September 2015 both prosecutors were abruptly reassigned, and the indictment was assigned to another prosecutor. A month later, Bakırköy 2nd Penal Court of First Instance Judge Osman Burhanettin Toprak, who accepted the indictments of the pro-government dailies that published the reports about an alleged assassination plot against Erdogan’s daughter, was also reassigned to a post in Konya province.
On January 13, 2020, five years after the publication of the story, the Bakırköy Second Court of First Instance acquitted Mustafa Dolu, the responsible editor at the Akşam and Güneş dailies. Oran appealed the verdict, and the judges at the Istanbul Regional Appeals Court unanimously overturned the acquittal on May 27, 2022, confirming once again that the allegations were baseless and that the editor must be retried again on defamation charges.
The Bakırköy court hearing the retrial convicted Dolu last month and sentenced him to almost three years on two counts of defamation and two years, six months on two counts of insult. It remains to be seen whether that conviction will hold up on appeal given the government’s control of the judiciary. But multiple legal cases all confirmed that the allegations were completely false.
Turkish regional appeals court overturned the acquittal of a journalist who was responsible for publishing a fabricated assassination plot against the Turkish president’s daughter:Overturning_acquittal_fake_assasination_plot