Ibrahim Kalın, Turkey's newly appointed intelligence chief, secretly met with Yasin al-Qadi, a close friend of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan who for years was listed as an al-Qaeda financer by both the UN Security Council sanction committee and the US Treasury.
According to confidential documents obtained by Nordic Monitor, not only did the two have several secret meetings in Turkey, but they were also named as suspects in the same criminal investigation carried out between 2012 and 2013 under the supervision of the Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor's Office. Al-Qadi was the number one suspect, while Kalın was listed as suspect No. 47 in the case file, which included incriminating evidence such as surveillance records, phone wiretaps, banking transactions and records of bribes and kickbacks.
The records in the case file clearly point out that Kalın cultivated close ties with an Egyptian national named Usama Qutb, a point man for al-Qadi in Turkey and also a suspect in the same criminal case. The intercepted communications of Qutb, who was wiretapped as part of a criminal investigation into an organized crime syndicate by Istanbul prosecutors at the time, showed that Qutb and Kalın spoke several times, arranging face-to-face meetings between Kalın and al-Qadi.
Turkish prosecutors secured a warrant for wiretaps on Qutb and al-Qadi from an Istanbul court, specially authorized under the counterterrorism law, on May 20, 2013, and monitored all their communications to obtain evidence. For example, in a wiretap dated June 19, 2013, Qutb called Kalın to set up a trilateral meeting for him and his boss al-Qadi. The meeting appears to have been in preparation for al-Qadi's meeting with Erdogan, then prime minister and now president of Turkey, and other senior government officials.
It appears Kalın was providing pointers to al-Qadi and his associates in Turkey on how to navigate Turkish officials and counseling them on how best to influence Turkish foreign policy and the intelligence apparatus with respect to Egypt, Syria and other countries where they had a joint interest in propping up political Islamist groups, especially the Muslim Brotherhood.
In another instance, an SMS intercepted by Turkish investigators revealed a secret meeting had been arranged between al-Qadi and Kalın on October 9, 2013. The SMS, dated October 8, 2013 between Qutb and Kalın, showed that Qutb was asking to meet with Kalın again on behalf of al-Qadi, and in response Kalın told him he could meet them in the Prime Ministry Office, where Kalın was working as deputy undersecretary advising Erdogan on foreign policy.
All these meetings were quietly arranged, with Erdogan's people going to great lengths to keep al-Qadi's engagements in Istanbul and Ankara hidden from the public.
At the time al-Qadi had been secretly traveling to Turkey to talk about moving funds to invest in the country, asking the Erdogan government to abuse its authority and facilitate business deals in violation of Turkish law. He was granted access to top Turkish leaders to make a case on behalf of Islamist groups in Egypt, Syria and other places.
Al-Qadi's trips to Turkey, some of which were made when he was still under UN and US sanctions and was supposed to be denied entry under Turkish law, faced no obstacles since Erdogan's personal bodyguards escorted him during entry and exit as well as on trips inside Turkey. Although he quietly made business deals with Erdogan's son Bilal and transferred millions of dollars to Turkey, he was also meeting with Erdogan, his then-intelligence chief Hakan Fidan and Kalın to discuss foreign policy, intelligence and security matters.
In a wiretap dated October 10, Qutb sounded pleased with the outcome of a meeting at Erdogan's office. He mentioned they had lunch with Fidan and others after meeting with Erdogan in private, indicating that al-Qadi was making progress in pushing his Islamist agenda in the Middle East and North Africa region in his engagement with top Turkish leadership. Moving millions of dollars to accounts controlled by Erdogan's son Bilal bought him unprecedented access to key decision makers.
Prosecutors claimed Bilal used his father's influence to help purchase valuable land in various provinces at prices far below market value. He used the Foundation of Youth and Education in Turkey (TÜRGEV), which is run by him and other Erdogan family members, as a cover to mask the shady business deals.
Al-Qadi was designated as an al-Qaeda financier by the US Treasury, and the United Nations Al-Qaida Sanctions Committee listed him under terrorism as part of Security Council resolutions. The Turkish government also issued an official circular designating him as a terrorist, barring him from entering Turkey or transferring funds there.
Yet he secretly made trips to Turkey including on Erdogan's official plane in 2011 when he was still under sanctions, followed by more trips under Erdogan's protection, meeting with Erdogan, the then-undersecretary of the National Intelligence Organization (MIT) Fidan and others.
Al-Qadi was later removed from the UN list, followed by the US Treasury delisting his name.
Al-Qadi, Bilal, Kalın and dozens of others were suspects in a corruption investigation pursued by prosecutors in Istanbul and were the subjects of detention warrants issued on December 25, 2013. However, Erdogan stepped in, illegally preventing the execution of the warrants by ordering the police to ignore the prosecutors' orders. After the removal of the prosecutors and police chiefs who were involved in the investigation, Erdogan managed to kill the investigation and save all the suspects from serious criminal charges.
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.