The Islamist regime of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has sanctioned a covert operation in a number of Western countries in Europe and North America, aiming to locate former police chiefs who had in the past investigated wrongdoing in the government.
According to a secret government document obtained by Nordic Monitor, the Erdoğan regime has been running highly classified, intelligence-gathering operations in nine Western countries that were tasked with a specific goal to accomplish.
The operations, kept strictly confidential, were launched to locate former police chiefs who had investigated and gathered incriminating evidence in cases involving pervasive corruption in the administration, sophisticated Iran sanctions-busting schemes, the government's aiding and abetting of armed jihadist groups and its links to organized crime syndicates.
The document, dated September 28, 2022 and distributed by the Security General Directorate (Emniyet), Turkey's main law enforcement agency, shows that 55 police chiefs are located in the US, Canada, Germany, the UK, the Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland, Belgium and Norway.
While sharing the information with provincial police departments to further investigate the profiled police chiefs, the Security General Directorate warned that the information passed from abroad must be treated on a "need-to-know" basis and was "not to be shared with unauthorized people/institutions." The warning is a measure to avoid a diplomatic backlash and problems at the bilateral level with these nine countries in the event that the unlawful spying activities on foreign soil are exposed.
The intelligence-gathering operations in these countries were directed by agents who use Turkish embassies as their base of operations. The document refers to "Institution V" as the original source of the intelligence, which is a way of indicating the Foreign Ministry Security and Research Directorate (otherwise known as the intelligence section, or Araştırma ve Güvenlik İşleri Genel Müdürlüğü in Turkish), a secretive spy section of the Turkish Foreign Ministry.
President Erdoğan has unlawfully and summarily purged tens of thousands of police officers including most veteran police chiefs since December 2013, when corruption cases were made public and incriminated him, his family members and his business and political associates in illegal schemes that helped Iran launder money using Turkish banks.
Apparently Erdoğan and his cronies fear that the police chiefs who managed to escape from wrongful imprisonment in Turkey and sought asylum in Western countries may create headaches for him and his inner circle in the future. Many of these police chiefs are believed to possess critical information and evidence that may very well help build legal cases abroad against Erdoğan and his close associates.
In fact, one of those police chiefs, Huseyin Korkmaz, turned up as a government witness in a federal case in New York in which US attorneys indicted a Turkish state bank official, a former minister and an Iranian operative named Reza Zarrab, who laundered Iranian government funds using the Turkish state-owned Halkbank in order to avoid US sanctions.
Testifying in the US District Court for the Southern District of New York during the 2017 trial, Korkmaz detailed how the bribery scheme worked to facilitate money transfers between Turkey and Iran in violation of US sanctions based on a 2013 probe for which he was part of the investigation team. Although Erdoğan managed to kill the 2013 corruption case by removing police chiefs, prosecutors and judges in Turkey, he could not prevent US prosecutors from pursuing a similar case in New York.
Although Erdoğan and his ministers had lobbied both the Obama and Trump administrations to derail the case, they failed in their efforts. Zarrab, saved from the Turkish case by Erdoğan, who helped secure his release, turned into a US government witness after his arrest in Miami and submitted submitted damning evidence about how he had bribed Turkish government officials and testified about the money he distributed to Erdoğan family foundations as well as ministers to get the money laundering scheme going through Turkey.
The US case resulted in the conviction of Halkbank deputy general manager Mehmet Hakan Atilla, who served time in the US and was later released to Turkey. A separate indictment was filed in the US against Halkbank, which was the focal point in laundering funds for Iran. The case is still pending at the US Supreme Court over the Erdoğan government's claim that the bank has immunity from prosecution.
The document does not state exactly what the ultimate goal for spying activities on exiled Turkish police chiefs in Western countries was but mentions that the information was shared in confidence to allow Turkish authorities make use of it in their own work.
The ambiguity in the wording suggests the intelligence can be used for various clandestine operations ranging from assassination plots to intimidation campaigns in an attempt to prevent these police chiefs from divulging sensitive information about President Erdoğan's dirty laundry.
The police department in Turkey has suffered much in the aftermath of the December 2013 corruption investigations. Within two weeks of the exposure of the corruption probe, Erdoğan sacked some 2,000 police officers including veteran chiefs who were investigating major corruption in the government as well as Iran's Quds Force network, known in Turkish as Selam Tevhid.
The purge quickly turned into a politically motivated revenge operation by the government that targeted the investigators. In the end tens of thousands of police officers including two-thirds of all police chiefs were dismissed from their jobs and/or jailed. Most of them faced prosecution on fabricated charges, some were jailed and some were forced to live in exile to escape wrongful imprisonment.
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.