An employee of a regional German government spied on a Turkish group critical of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and passed the information to Turkey's consulate general in Düsseldorf, a secret report obtained by Nordic Monitor has revealed.
The 746-page Turkish government report, stamped secret, included intelligence collected by Turkish embassies and consulates abroad on the Gülen movement, a group that is critical of the Erdoğan government on a range of issues from corruption to Turkey's aiding and abetting of armed jihadist groups.
The unidentified informant was mentioned in the intelligence gathered by diplomats at the Turkish Embassy in Berlin and passed to the Foreign Ministry's intelligence section (General Directorate for Research and Security, or Araştırma ve Güvenlik İşleri Genel Müdürlüğü in Turkish) in Ankara. The ministry shared the intelligence with other government branches including the police, prosecutor's offices and intelligence agency MIT on September 1, 2016 in a note numbered 11373169.
The intelligence highlighted information that was received from a source by the consulate in Düsseldorf and used to prosecute a criminal case against the critics who were reported.
According to the intelligence, a Turkish national who was employed by the Düsseldorf regional government (Bezirksregierung) passed intelligence notes about Realschule Boltenheide, a private secondary school that was alleged to be affiliated with the Gülen group.
The informant told Turkish diplomats that the school had a license from the North Rhine-Westphalia Ministry of Schools and Education to operate as a private school. He or she said they didn't have the credentials to access the ministry network from the Düsseldorf district government network but knew a person working in a separate department who could gain access to detailed information about the school. However, the informant added that the person who had access to information about private schools would not be receptive to sharing such information.
The note clearly indicates that the Turkish Consulate General had a source within the district government in Düsseldorf, part of Germany's North Rhine-Westphalia province.
The report also noted that separate intelligence obtained by a religious affairs attaché working at the same consulate general identified six people of Turkish origin affiliated with the Gülen group in the same province. Apparently, the attaché, who works for Turkey's Religious Directorate (Diyanet), spied on Erdoğan critics using mosques and other platforms in the province and later passed the information to Diyanet headquarters in Ankara and also shared it with the Foreign Ministry.
The intelligence includes detailed information about Förderverein Realschule Boltenheide e.V., a German association that along with its administrators was certified by a court in Solingen in April 2010.
The report reveals that the Turkish Embassy collected not only open source information about the association and the people who ran it but also used agents, spies and informants from among the Turkish community, some of whom were working as imams and some in German government institutions.
"Proper research was carried out on the individuals [administrators of Förderverein Realschule Boltenheide e.V] through DITIB mosques and officials, but it was learned that no information was available as these individuals did not have any connections to DITIB mosques or officials," the intelligence note dispatched by the embassy in Berlin to Turkey explained.
The Turkish-Islamic Union for Religious Affairs (Diyanet İşleri Türk İslam Birliği, or DITIB) is the German branch of Turkey's Diyanet. It functions as the religious arm of Erdoğan's Islamist regime, employs imams sent by the Turkish government and is funded by Turkey.
The government of the central German state of Hessen ended its cooperation with DITIB. "The doubts about the fundamental independence of DITIB from the Turkish government could not be resolved," said Minister of Culture Alexander Lorz at the time.
In 2018 the Swiss attorney general launched a criminal inquiry into spying on Switzerland's Turkish community by Turkish diplomats. The Swiss foreign ministry confirmed that the accusations outlined in the criminal proceedings were not diplomatic tasks and that therefore the people concerned could not avail themselves of immunity. Two of them had to leave Switzerland as a result of the investigation.
Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu confirmed systematic spying on Turkish government critics on foreign soil by Turkish diplomatic missions in February 2020. Çavuşoğlu said Turkish diplomats assigned to embassies and consulates have officially been instructed by the government to conduct such activities abroad.
Spying activities by Turkish diplomatic missions result in serious consequences in the Turkish judicial system for people who were profiled and reported to Turkey. It leads to administrative or legal actions, the punishment of their relatives back in Turkey and the seizure of their assets.
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.