A Turkish company that was sanctioned by the US Treasury last year over a covert Hamas financing network is continuing its operations, posting millions of Turkish lira in profit at the end of 2022.
Real estate investment firm Trend Gayrimenkul Yatırım Ortaklığı A.Ş (Trend), run by Hamas operatives, announced it had earned 57.9 million Turkish lira in profit in 2022, according to a declaration to the Public Disclosure Forum (KAP) of the Borsa İstanbul (İstanbul Stock Exchange) on February 13, 2023.
Trend, previously known as Anda Gayrimenkul Geliştirme ve İnşaat, was designated under a sanctions regime on May 24, 2022 by the US Department of the Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC). The US officials said the company was part of Hamas's global financial assets, worth more than $500 million, and used to conceal and launder funds on behalf of the militant Palestinian organization.
The Islamist government of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, which has been an ardent supporter of Hamas, has not taken any action against the firm or its officials since the US designation. The company, which trades publicly on the stock exchange, continued to generate income in construction and real estate investment schemes in Istanbul.
The last trade registry filing made by Trend, on February 14, announced that the firm would hold a general assembly at its headquarters in the Kagithane district of Istanbul on March 8. Its office is located in a building owned by wealthy Turkish businessman Adnan Polat in the same Istanbul neighborhood where Turkish President Erdoğan launched his political career in his younger years.
Since the US designation, the company has made some changes to the board of directors. On November 7, 2022 Hamid Abdullah Hussein al-Ahmar, the board chair, was removed and replaced by Alaeddin Şengüler, a Turkish national who owns real estate investment firm Ala. Şengüler, born to Turkish parents in Egypt and educated in Islamic sciences in Saudi Arabia, appears to have cultivated ties with Hamas over the years.
Hisham Yunis Qafisheh (also known by his assumed Turkish name, Haşmet Aslan), sanctioned by the US for his role in the transfer of Hamas funds and who managed several companies on behalf of the militant organization, no longer serves on Trend's board.
In addition to Şengüler, the board now comprises Mustafa Saka, Mustafa K.M. al-Jallad, Zeliha Özenc and Salih Avci.
According to the US Treasury, Trend was directly or indirectly run by Hamas's investment office, which is subordinate to Hamas's Shura Council and Executive Committee. In addition to Turkey, the network has control of multiple firms in various countries such as Sudan, Algeria, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. Some of the funds Hamas generates through its web of companies in multiple countries help finance violence in the Middle East.
Hamas was designated by the US as a Foreign Terrorist Organization in October 1997 and as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist pursuant to Executive Order No. 13224 in October 2001.
Turkey does not list Hamas as a terrorist entity, and Erdoğan's Islamist government aids and abets the organization and hosts some of its leaders in Turkey while granting citizenship and passports to Hamas members.
Tracking Hamas activity in Turkey has in recent years has become more complicated as many Hamas figures assumed Turkish names after obtaining citizenship to cover their tracks.
Unlike previous governments in Turkey, the Erdoğan administration made it easy for foreigners to acquire citizenship if they made investments 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 to 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 acquired 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 flagged for transferring funds to Hamas as well.
Many people claim these practices will make Turkey a black money paradise. Not being asked about the source of 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 as 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.
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.