The Erdoğan government has helped many of his Islamist associates, including those connected to Hamas, obtain Turkish nationality.
Trade registry data for a Turkish real estate company recently sanctioned by the US Treasury shows that a Jordanian Hamas financier acquired Turkish nationality and changed his name to a Turkish one, most likely to avoid scrutiny and to facilitate easy travel.
Hisham Yunis Qafisheh, who played an important role in the transfer of Hamas funds and managed several companies on behalf of the militant organization, is listed as one of the board members of Turkish real estate investment firm Trend Gayrimenkul Yatırım Ortaklığı A.Ş.
When the company was first established in 2006, three years after Recep Tayyip Erdoğan came to power in Turkey, it had a different name: Anda Gayrimenkul Geliştirme ve İnşaat, a limited liability company involved in construction and property development.
Qafisheh was one of two partners who owned the company, according to multiple documents reviewed by Nordic Monitor. In the first application for registering the business, he submitted papers to show his Jordanian citizenship for ID verification and declared his address as Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. The other partner was a man named Saleh Mabrouk O. Mangoush, a Saudi national, who also listed the same address in Jeddah as the place he maintains a permanent residence.
In October 2013, when the two decided to change the structure of the company to a corporation from a limited liability firm in order to expand business operations and take on new partners, Qafisheh also revealed his Saudi nationality in addition to his Jordanian citizenship in the papers filed with the Turkish authorities. In November 2017 the company changed its name to Trend Gayrimenkul Yatırım Ortaklığı A.Ş.
There was an interesting notice in the Ticaret Sicil Gazetesi trade registry publication on March 25, 2021. It stated that a correction had been submitted for the company for Qafisheh's personal data. He apparently assumed the Turkish name Haşmet Aslan and obtained a Turkish national identification number, which means he acquired citizenship in Turkey.
Unlike previous governments in Turkey, the Erdoğan administration made it easy for foreigners to acquire citizenship if they invested or purchased real estate in Turkey. The change, a radical departure from decades-long citizenship and immigration practices, was advertised as a step to attract investment in the Turkish economy.
That also helped many Islamist associates of Erdoğan, especially in the Muslim Brotherhood network and its Palestinian offshoot Hamas in various countries, to quickly obtain Turkish nationality. It is not clear how many Muslim Brotherhood members and Hamas militants benefited from this program as the government has not been forthcoming with detailed figures.
Not only did Muslim Brotherhood operatives benefit from this scheme, but some members of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) also obtained Turkish nationality. Nordic Monitor previously published a story revealing how Marwan M Salih Salih, an Iraqi national who was sanctioned for ISIS links, acquired Turkish citizenship and changed his name to Polat Devecioğlu.
Salih, the CEO of a company called Redin Danışmanlık İç ve Dış Ticaret Limited Şirketi, a consulting and foreign trade firm that was sanctioned by the US on September 10, 2019, was red flagged for transferring funds to Hamas as well.
In 2019 the Erdoğan government announced that foreigners who bought real estate priced at a minimum of $250,000 would be given the right to apply for Turkish citizenship. In 2019 and 2020, according to official statistics, 7,500 foreigners acquired citizenship by purchasing property in Turkey. In the first six months of 2021 alone, 10,000 people obtained the right to acquire citizenship. The top 10 countries whose nationals have become Turkish citizens are Iran, Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, China, Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt and Pakistan.
Foreign nationals who are deemed by the Ministry of Labor and Social Security to have employed at least 50 people will also be able to apply to become Turkish citizens. Foreigners who are determined by the Banking Regulation and Supervision Agency to have deposited at least $500,000 or the equivalent in foreign currency in banks operating in Turkey can also become citizens, provided they do not withdraw the funds for three years.
Similarly, an individual who invests at least $500,0000 or its equivalent in mutual funds or real estate funds belonging to banks in Turkey will be able to become a citizen after confirmation by the authorities.
Many people claim these practices will make Turkey a black money paradise. Not being asked about the source of the money transferred to Turkey is one of the most criticized issues. It is also known that a considerable portion of the money brought into Turkey by foreigners does not come through banks, but by cash in suitcases. Unregistered money becomes legal by buying real estate or depositing it in a bank. As Turkey faces deeper economic troubles, how the incoming money enters the market loses its importance.
The Muslim Brotherhood entities in Turkey are often intertwined, and some funding obtained from a specific company is used to finance operations in other companies and in different business fields. For example, in 2017 a property in Istanbul owned by Trend was used to finance newly established firm Haliç Kültür ve Eğitim Hizmetleri Anonim Şirketi, an education company that runs private schools. In other words, Hamas used the funds earned from real estate to finance schools in Turkey.
They were also helped by Islamic banks whose owners are closely linked to the Erdoğan government. Trend has a number of credit lines with the Türkiye Finans Islamic bank and owns a number of properties to secure lines of credit and loans.
The records show two other persons as partners who joined Trend at a later stage. Osama Yahya O Fell and Hamid Abdullah Hussein Al-Ahmar, a Yemeni national, became partners in the company.
Qafisheh is also one the three founders of İYS Yapı Sanayi A.Ş., a construction and property development company. It was set up in May 2017 in Istanbul with Al-Ahmar and Mangoush.
Abdullah Bozkurt, a Middle East Forum Writing Fellow, is a Swedish-based investigative journalist and analyst who runs the Nordic Research and Monitoring Network and is chairman of the Stockholm Center for Freedom.