By Manolis Kostidis – Ankara
Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Fethullah Gulen. The two most powerful men of Turkey whose political parties and social movements have been through many adventures, difficulties and have paid a price in the past.
This common fate is the reason they literally joined forces 11 years ago and reduced the power of the military in Turkey. After this event friction begun to develop between them. It is an unusual controversy.
The Gulen Islamic Batallion faces the threat of its schools and tutor colleges shutting down due to an Erdogan government decision. The 4.000 tutor colleges Gulen owns in Turkey are the grass roots of the battalion as this is where the young are educated free of charge and become members of the guild.
Erdogan wants to cut out this source.
On the other hand, Erdogan’s Justice & Development (AKP) party took the biggest hit in its history with the revelation of the bribery scandal as many names of ministers and state officials are involved in it.
The bribery scandal involving Ministers and technocrats
The scandal rocking the government is of huge and unforeseen proportions.
The ministers involved in the bribery scandal are Finance minister Zafer Caglayan, Interior minister Muamer Guler and Environment minister Erdogan Bairaktar. Their sons, Baris Guler, Salih Caglayan and Abdullah Bairaktar are questioned by authorities as they appear to be the ones to have received kickbacks.
Furthermore, EU Affairs minister Egemen Bagis is alleged to have received EUR 1.5 million from businessman Riza Zarab. Moreover, the governor of state-run Halkbank was found to have hidden USD 4.5 million in his home.
Involvement of Erdogan’s son
The name of Erdogan’s son is also making its way into headlines as Cumhuriyet reporting the “Support of Education & Youth” Foundation headed by him received a donation of EUR 1.5 million from Zarab. The building used by the Foundation was also built in an “ecologically protected” area.
Corruption scandal and money laundering
Sources say the accused of being bribed by the specific businessman are being charged with money laundering, illegal granting of the Turkish citizenship to foreigners and illegal gold trade. Turkish police appears to have been tailing the defendants for over a year.
Riza Zarab: Turkey’s Coscotas who delivered money in shoes boxes
The scandal’s main man is 29-year old businessman Riza Zarab of Iranian-Azeri origin, who appears to have paid off the sons of ministers as well as Bagis and other state officials to “help him out”. He delivered millions of dollars to them in shoe boxes and chocolate cases in order to avoid initiating suspicion.
Zarab is a controversial figure as he owns shipping companies and trades gold and oil.
In Turkey he is known for his glamorous lifestyle and his marriage to famous Turkish singer Embru Gundes, who is older than him. His main source of wealth is gold trade with Iran. He mediated in order for Turkey to import oil and natural from Iran. Payments were made in gold bullion, therefore bypassing the economic embargo. Rough estimates suggest payments towards Iran through Zarab in recent years surpassed EUR 100 billion.
In January 2013, Turkish police found in a private jet in the Istanbul airport 320 gold bars worth USD 30 million. Zarab had stated then he is an official dealer of gold and the aircraft heading to Dubai had been allowed to take off without any problems. Someone had clearly intervened…
Overall, Zarab’s Group holds eight companies in 10 different sectors.
His private yacht has now been confiscated by police.
He had bought his wife a horse worth EUR 300.000 for her birthday. Just last week he acquired a work of art by a famous painter worth EUR 500.000.
Finance Minister makes most from bribes
The minister of Finance, Zafer Caglayan, appears to have pocketed the largest amounts from the scandal. According to the attorney general’s evidence leaked to the Turkish press, businessman Zaraf gave the minister a 0,5 – 1 pct cut from remittances sent to Iran in exchange for gold imported from the country. Estimates indicate the remittances exceeded USD 80 billion with the indictment mentioning the minister took USD 150 million in bribes!
Zarab used state-run Halkbank for many of his dealings. The bank’s governor Suleiman Aslan was arrested recently as police found USD 4.5 hidden in shoe boxes in his home. The money appears to have been given to him by Zarab.
What enraged Erdogan was that the entire state mechanism was caught sleeping as not even the Interior minister knew anything about the arrest of his own son!
A few weeks ago Erdogan decided to abolish private tutoring schools which were funded mainly by the Hismet Islamic movement of Gulen.
At the same time, Gulen, who lives in the US and has influence over the police, secret service and the judiciary in Turkey, denies any role in the revelations made about the corruption scandal. However, the sudden revelation of so many scandals seems has worked in the abolition of the schools not going ahead.
“Police started a surprise operation and senior technocrats, sons of ministers and many members of the AKP froze like a rabbit does when a spotlight falls on it. On the first day they didn’t know what to do. The next day they started to throw about conspiracy theories” Emre Usu writes in Taraf newspaper.
The conspiracy theory put forth by the AKP and the pro-Kurdish party says “the US and Israel want to overthrow the Erdogan government and Gulen with his people in the judiciary are performing this task”.
However, prosecutor Zekeriya Oz who leads the enquiry, was until recently considered “leading and moral” by the government itself as it was he who had revealed the Ergenekon and Sledgehammer conspiracies of the Generals against the government.
Everyone knew then that Gulen from the States with his people in power had orchestrated the downfall of the Generals. Now, the same power seems to be bringing down the Erdogan government.
“Half the government caught the other half in the wrong. Until now they were used to arresting outsiders. For the first time they are arresting their own” Bekir Joscun comments in Cumhuriyet.
Erdogan has already sacked almost the entire police administration to get rid of Gulen’s people within the system. Dozens of police chiefs were sent packing together with the Istanbul Chief of Security, Husein Cakpin. A cabinet reshuffle is also expected to go ahed, with the minister involved in the scandal being axed.
The Erdogan – Gulen tussle began earlier
On February 7th 2012, the prosecutor of Istanbul called the secret service chief (MIT) Hakan Fidan before him along with predecessor Emre Taner in what was seen as a move against Erdogan as Fidan was his closest advocate.
Some analysts said then that the “movement” in the judiciary wanted to arrest the Prime Minister himself!
It was the time Erdogan had been in hospital for a second time and Turkey was shocked at the prosecutor’s action to call the MIT for questioning in relation to secret talks wbeing held with the PKK. If rumors are true, Erdogan’s imprisonment would have been a judicial coup! Eventually, Erdogan ordered Fidan not to attend the hearing and the case did not progress.
Another shocking rumor is that of “bugs found in Erdogan’s office placed by people belonging to the movement”. The Turkish PL had replaced the entire security team guarding him at the time.
Gulen’s moderate Islam
Fethullah Gulen is essentially the leader of a movement that promotes a “moderate Islam” worldwide and of course in Turkey. In essence it is an Islamic sect. The promotion of a modern Islam that doesn’t reject the western way of thinking is at the core Gulen’s thought.
Gulen took advantage of Turkey’s shift towards Islam at the end of the 1980’s when Ozal was Prime Minister. The collapse of the Soviet empire in 1991 offered Gulen a golden opportunity to fill the void in areas inhabited by an Islamic population such as Central Asia and the Balkans. Later, it expanded all over the world.
To achieve this infiltration, he used education as a main “weapon”. So, schools were built promoting the views of the Gulen movement. Overall, around 10.000 schools – private tutoring colleges are run by Gulen worldwide, teaching youths his ideas. In around 100 countries one can find such schools; even in the USA.
Gulen’s influence in Turkey
Gulen’s influence in Turkey increased further when Erdogan’s Justice & Development party came to power in November 2002.
Graduates of Gulen’s schools were hired in public administration posts and many crucial positions were filled by his people; in the police, the secret service and the judiciary. Essentially, Erdogan – as Kemalists maintain in Turkey – started to repay his debt to Gulen for supporting to come to power.
US support of Gulen
During the 1990’s when the army imprisoned people or prohibited political activity of Islamists, like Erdogan, Gulen was self-exiled to the US. The reason put forth at the time was his “illness”.
More than ten years have gone by and Gulen has not returned to Turkey and still lives in the States. In Turkey, his enemies say the money used to fund his network come from the US. Gulen himself has condemned the terrorist attacks of September 11th and this is seen a “positive” by Americans.
Fethullah Hoxa, however, has long expressed his opposition to the support Ankara expresses towards Syria extremists and the mission of the Mavi Marmara off Gaza which dealt a blow to Turkey-Israel relation. Essentially Gulen supported Tel Aviv!
The Economic Empire of the “Islamic Network”
Nobody knows the budget of the Gulen network. Estimates talk of an amount of USD 10 billion and others of USD 20 billion. Tuition fees, financial activity of its companies and donations by rich Turks and foreigners are its main funding sources. It is estimated & million people worldwide work for the guild.
In Turkey, it owns TV network Samanyolu, newspaper Zaman distributed free to its readers with a circulation of 800.000, news agency Cihan and Asya Bank. It also holds shares in many companies that don’t show up anywhere.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan was essentially a “pupil” of Necmettin Erbakan and radical islam. When Erdogan founded the Justice & Development party in 2001, he realized he needed to promote moderate Islam to come to power which was against Erbakan.
Erdogan allied with Gulen and came to power as his relationship with his mentor broke down. Eleven years on, Erdogan is in conflict with another of his allies.