Whistleblower alleges widespread corruption by pro-Erdoğan foundation

Journalist Metin Cihan (a pen name) made public via Twitter on Tuesday a series of documents allegedly showing abuses of power and corruption in the foundation that has Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s son on its advisory board.

The documents were provided by a source professing to be a former employee of the Turkey Youth Foundation (TÜGVA).

“The headline I would use would be ‘parallel state structure’ if I wrote for a newspaper,” Cihan said, sharing an e-mail from his source that detailed how the foundation allegedly arranged employment and appointment of public servants, bypassing regular mechanisms in public institutions.

According to the source, when individuals would wish to apply for whatever public servant’s position, they would be provided a one-time link by TÜGVA. Their application would be assessed by a committee in the foundation, the members of which all hold public office, the source said.

Applicants were listed as having been placed in the Justice Ministry, Interior Ministry, Customs and Commerce Ministry, Police Academy, Police Special Operations, Land Forces Command, Naval Forces Command, and Special Forces Command. The list includes appointments as judges, district governors and army officers, among others.

“This structure is not only made up of TÜGVA,” Cihan said. “For instance, seven institutions held a meeting to usurp dormitories.”

There were 1,106 buildings in two lists that were allocated to one of seven associations or foundations, including the Women and Democracy Association (KADEM), where Erdoğan’s daughter Sümeyye Erdoğan is deputy chairwoman.

Turkey Youth and Education Service Foundation (TÜRGEV), another foundation in the list, was “founded under the leadership of His Excellency Mr. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan” and has Erdoğan’s son Bilal Erdoğan as an executive board member. Bilal Erdoğan is also on the board of trustees in the Foundation to Spread Ilm (İYC), another among the seven.

The remaining three out of the seven institutions are  the Ensar Foundation, which was embroiled in a child abuse scandal involving dozens of boys between 2012 and 2015, the Leader Imam-Hatip Alumni Association (ÖNDER), for graduates of Turkey’s Islamic schools, and the Human and Civilisation Movement (İMH), an Islamic foundation that has activities in Turkish-held areas in northern Syria.

A document shared by Cihan entitled the ‘Material Support Chart’ allegedly shows how public resources were transferred to TÜGVA.

Governorates, municipalities, the General Directorate for Foundations, provincial special administration offices, and at least one university were allocating public funds or bestowing onto the foundation whole buildings pro bono for use in its activities, according to the document.

The government “did not learn its lesson with FETÖ. They still make space for FETÖ-like structures within the state,” opposition deputy Engin Özkoç said in a speech in parliament on Tuesday, using the name Turkey uses for the followers of Islamic preacher Fethullah Gülen.

Turkey accuses Gülenists and labels it as FETÖ (Fethullaist Terror Organisation) of having orchestrated a coup attempt on July 15, 2015, which failed shortly after it started. The state of emergency declared after the attempted putsch lasted for some two years, and resulted in an unprecedented crackdown affecting hundreds of thousands of citizens.

The group was also accused of having formed a ‘parallel state structure’ that functioned alongside public institutions, promoting its own cadres in the Turkish military, security and other public institutions. 

TÜGVA Chairman Enes Eminoğlu said Cihan was “an agent of influence”, and that the foundation was facing an “all-out attack”. In the same speech, Eminoğlu accused Cihan of being “a fugitive abroad”, saying his sister was “one of the ringleaders in the PKK”. The chairman also said the documents had been “forged”.

 

The source did not send the documents only to Cihan, journalist İsmail Saymaz said in a televised debate on Halk TV on Tuesday night. Other journalists who received the files are in a process of verification, he added.

Members of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) who are close to TÜGVA have “confirmed that these lists are correct”, Saymaz said.

Cihan also shared screenshots of a WhatsApp conversation that allegedly shows AKP district official Naci Bilici making advances to a woman who had appealed to the foundation for work.

The foundation made headlines last week when its Istanbul branch refused to vacate public property in Büyükada, part of Istanbul’s Prince’s Islands. Police officers had blocked the path of public officials coming to enforce a court order for TÜGVA’s eviction.

The TÜGVA documents came up after Cihan tweeted about the Prince’s Islands district governor ordering the police to stop the eviction, he said on Wednesday. “What made him do this? Where did he place his trust? What was he afraid of?” Cihan had asked.

Speaking to journalist Cüneyt Özdemir on Wednesday, TÜGVA’s Eminoğlu said the source had “taken documents from the inside”.

“This man took the documents, leaked them. He made copies of them for himself, and now he is exposing them. Starting from this alone, we can see how dangerous these are, how problematic this mentality is,” Eminoğlu continued.

Some documents Metin shared were “manipulated”, Eminoğlu said.

“There is some correct information in there,” Eminoğlu added. “Because it was taken from our ERP system,” he said, confirming the application that the source said had been used to check backgrounds on individuals who appealed to TÜGVA, over data from the census bureau.

In the wake of the exposé, former TÜGVA administrator Tamer Özsoy told news website Gerçek Gündem that the documents were “just the tip of the iceberg”.

“An example: All employees in the Nation Library in the Presidential Campus were appointed there by TÜGVA reference. This I know by personal experience. I know the people there,” Özsoy said. “There are more than 100 TÜGVA members in the Justice Ministry that I know personally alone. They were placed in these positions over the foundation,” he added.

Speaking to TELE1 channel later, Özsoy said all TÜGVA officials should face justice. “I am calling on the conscientious prosecutors in the Republic of Turkey. Put on trial me first, followed by everybody else. This matter needs to be pushed,” he said.

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