World

Turkish Embassy in New Zealand spied on child care center and profiled critics

The Turkish Embassy in New Zealand engaged in a campaign of intelligence gathering and profiling of critics and their organizations including a child care center, documents obtained by Nordic Monitor have revealed.

According to an official document, Auckland-based nonprofit organization Pearl of the Islands Foundation Inc. (PIF) was profiled by the Turkish Embassy in Wellington and reported on to the Turkish Foreign Ministry. The document was later sent to the police department to build a case against critics of the Erdoğan regime.

The information collected by the embassy was used in a criminal indictment on dubious charges of terrorism against opponents, who have faced an unprecedented crackdown in recent years by the authoritarian government of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. The Gulen movement, a civic group that is highly critical of the Erdoğan government, bears the brunt of the crackdown in terms of the right to dissent and freedom of expression.

Those who were listed in these embassy documents were targeted by a campaign of intimidation and harassment and denied consular services abroad, while their relatives and friends back in Turkey risked the possibility of jail time, asset seizure and prosecution on fabricated criminal charges.

PIF’s stated aim according to its website is “to celebrate diversity and advance social cohesion between cultures to contribute the educational, cultural and overall social well-being of our community through its established institutions, platforms, and activities.” It has promoted a moderate version of Islam against radical views and held seminars and lectures to that effect over the years. It has organized an Anzac study tour and cultural festival and offered Turkish language classes.

The Turkish Embassy document listed PIF’s interfaith community iftar dinner — held in May 2016 at Parliament House in Wellington and attended by members of Parliament, government officials, community leaders and scholars – as if it were a criminal activity and reported the event to headquarters.

 

Interfaith community iftar dinner in Parliament.

In another shocking note, the embassy also surveilled the Little Pearls child care center with branches located in the Owairaka, Mt Roskill and Mt Albert/Puketapapa districts. The center was established in 2014 to provide care and educational services for children aged 3 months to 5 years. The report identified the teachers at the child care center and reported them back to Turkey as well.

Child care center that was profiled by the Turkish Embassy and reported back to Turkey to be used in a criminal case against critics.

Turkish Embassy officials were also concerned by the visit of Deakin University Professor Greg Barton, who was invited by PIF to deliver lectures on extremism, radicalism and a refugee crisis in September 2016. Barton, one of Australia’s leading scholars on terrorism and countering violent extremism, addressed several events as keynote speaker including gatherings held in Parliament and at Victoria University.

 

Australian professor Greg Barton delivers a lecture on extremism in New Zealand.

The collection of data, amounting to refugee spying or unlawful intelligence gathering by embassy and consulate officials, was done after requests from the Anti-Smuggling and Organized Crime Department of the Turkish National Police (Kaçakçılık ve Organize Suçlarla Mücadele Daire Başkanlığı, or KOM). According to Turkish law, KOM has no jurisdiction abroad and is not authorized to conduct espionage overseas. The information notes sent by the embassy were later incorporated into a report by KOM on Jan. 30, 2017 and were used in the criminal prosecution of government critics on terrorism charges.

 

Turkish Embassy note profiling New Zealand organization PIF and child care centers run by PIF.
The report that included Foreign Ministry intelligence documents was used in several indictments in what was seen as a blatant abuse of the criminal justice system by the Turkish government as part of its crackdown on critics, opponents and dissidents who have nothing to with terrorism at all. Some of the accused were jailed for months and even years in some cases without a formal charge, indictment or trial. It also shows how the unlawful information gathering by the Turkish Embassy in New Zealand was incorporated in the mass persecution of critics back in Turkey.

 

Turkish Embassy note profiling Australian professor Greg Barton, a leading expert on radicalism and terrorism.
For example, the profiling data collected on the New Zealand organization by the Turkish Embassy was used as evidence in a case concerning Kaynak Holding, a major conglomerate and the largest publisher in Turkey that was unlawfully seized by the Erdoğan government on fabricated charges of terrorism in November 2015. Kaynak, a group that operated 22 major companies under its umbrella, is owned and operated by businesspeople who are seen as affiliated with the Gülen movement.

A donation made to PIF by Kaynak Holding in 2014 that was declared by the company in its filings was considered to be criminal evidence by the Erdoğan government. Nordic Monitor has learned that PIF approached Kaynak as a corporate donor when it was trying to the launch child care centers. Company records listed a one-time funds transfer to PIF as a donation, with nothing illegal about it as it was recorded on the company accounting sheet as part of a corporate social responsibility contribution.

Yet, a report prepared by Turkey’s Financial Crimes Investigation Board (MASAK), an agency that was often used by the Erdoğan government to investigate critics and their companies on criminal pretexts, listed the legitimate transaction as criminal activity. The report was compiled by MASAK on May 13, 2015 under file No. 2015/MAR (62) after the Ankara Public Prosecutor’s Office tasked the agency with investigating Kaynak on Feb. 2, 2015 as part of investigation No. 2014/75025.

 

Unlawful seizure of Kaynak Holding in 2015.

Hundreds of the people and dozens of firms were dragged into the investigation in what was seen as a crackdown on Turkey’s largest publisher and supplier of educational materials. Some 800 authors were victimized when the government cancelled book contracts after the seizure of Kaynak, and millions of textbooks including volumes on foreign language study were destroyed by authorities after the takeover.

Among those investigated in this case was Ekrem Dumanlı, former editor-in-chief of Zaman, Turkey’s largest national newspaper that was unlawfully seized by the government in March 2016 as part of a crackdown on the critical media. Dumanlı has been forced to live in exile along with 150 other journalists who had to flee to avoid wrongful imprisonment.

The Erdoğan government brands all its critics as terrorists, and there are 235 journalists currently locked up in Turkish jails on terrorism charges, making Turkey the world’s leading jailer of journalists. Over 30 percent of all Turkish diplomats, 60 percent of all senior police chiefs, half of all military generals and some 30 percent of all judges and prosecutors in Turkey were also declared terrorists overnight by the executive decisions of the Erdoğan government without any effective administrative investigation and certainly without any judicial proceedings.

In July 2017 German newspaper Die Zeit reported that Turkey had handed Germany a list of 68 companies and individuals suspected of links to terrorism due to alleged affiliation with the Gülen movement. It was also revealed that nearly 700 German firms including industry giants Daimler and BASF were being investigated for “financing terrorism” and lodged with Interpol by Turkey. After Germany reacted strongly against the witch-hunt and threatened economic sanctions, Turkey backed down and claimed that it was simply a miscommunication.

Nordic Monitor previously published a report disclosing how Turkish embassies and consular officials engaged in spying on government critics in 92 foreign countries as part of profiling and espionage activities that at times amounted to a systematic and deliberate campaign of refugee spying. A document found in papers released by the Ankara 4th High Criminal Court on Jan. 16, 2019 in case No. 2016/238 indicated that the Turkish Foreign Ministry had compiled a long list of foreign entities that were owned and/or operated by people who are seen as close to the movement.