February 12, 2016

Trustees seize control of schools in government-led move

A judge in İstanbul has ordered that trustees be appointed to 12 companies, including the FEM and Anafen prep schools established by people sympathetic to the faith-based Gülen movement for allegedly being affiliated with Kaynak Holding.

The trustees were appointed to nearly 50 private prep schools, foundations and associations belonging to 12 educational institutions by the Anatolia 4th Criminal Court of Peace in İstanbul on Friday. Among the schools to which trustees were appointed are Fatih College, the Coşkun and Nilüfer private schools, the Mizan and Sema Education Institutions and the FEM and Anafen prep schools.

According to the court's decision, eight of the companies are located in İstanbul and two in Ankara. The remaining two are located in İzmir and Samsun.

Executives of the 12 companies received notification of their dismissal earlier on Friday.

The appointed trustees -- Sezai Çiçek, Ertuğrul Erdoğan, İsmail Gülen, Aytekin Karahan, Levent Küçük, İmran Okumuş and Hüseyin Yaşar -- will serve at the 12 companies.

However, Kaynak Holding released a statement later on Friday, denying any corporate link with the foundations and associations where trustees were appointed.

"These claims are totally untrue. These companies are neither subsidiaries of Kaynak Holding nor have any organic relation with the holding," the statement said.

An İstanbul court appointed seven trustees on Nov. 18 to take over the management of Kaynak Holding and 21 of its subsidiaries on suspicion of their affiliation with the so-called “parallel state,” a term invented by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to refer to sympathizers of the Hizmet movement, a faith-based community inspired by Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen. The decision came less than a month after the seizure of Koza Holding, one of the country's largest publicly listed conglomerates.

The İstanbul 10th Criminal Court of Peace ordered the appointment of trustees to take over the management of the holding in a controversial move. The court has been criticized for abusing its power to engineer a questionable legal pretext to confiscate one of Turkey's most successful conglomerates.

The number of companies to which the same trustees have been appointed has increased to 58.

The first decision made by the trustees was to seize all items, including the office stock and the bank accounts of the 12 companies, and to stop remittances and the electronic transfer of funds.

On Oct. 27, police raided Koza İpek's headquarters in Ankara and the İpek Media Group's offices, which house four media outlets owned by the holding. The decision for the raid came from a widely criticized court decision to appoint a board of trustees to take over the management of the holding's 22 companies. Dozens of people were fired, television stations belonging to the group were closed and the sales of the Bugün and Millet dailies significantly decreased following the appointment of the trustees.

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been targeting sympathizers of the Gülen movement, also known as the Hizmet movement, since a corruption investigation was made public on Dec. 17, 2013. A graft probe implicated then-Prime Minister Erdoğan, members of his family and senior Justice and Development Party (AK Party) figures.

Erdoğan accused the Gülen movement of plotting to overthrow his government and alleged that sympathizers of the movement within the police department had fabricated the graft scandal. He said he would carry out a “witch hunt” against anyone with links to the movement; since then, hundreds of police officers have been detained and some arrested for alleged illegal activity in the course of the corruption investigation. The Gülen movement strongly rejects the allegations brought against it.

In an effort to restructure the judiciary in line with the government's instructions following the corruption scandal, Erdoğan ordered the establishment of the Penal Courts of Peace in 2014 as part of a “project.” The establishment of these courts came after he accused the Gülen movement of being responsible for the revelation of the scandal.

Since their establishment, the courts have handed down rulings that have led to sweeping operations by the police force and the detention and arrest of dissident journalists and opinion leaders who are vocal in their criticism of the government's unlawful acts. These courts have turned into the government's apparatus to impose judicial pressure on the opposition.

Published on Today's Zaman, 12 February 2016, Friday