September 8, 2014

Al-Qadi troubles in Turkey-US ties

Abdullah Bozkurt

Senior officials at the US Department of Treasury including Secretary Jack Lew and Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David S. Cohen must be in the crosshairs of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his loyalist public prosecutors, who charged veteran Turkish police chiefs last week for investigating Yasin al-Qadi, who is listed by the US Treasury as a “specially designated global terrorist.”

It is like a joke, but when reading public prosecutor İsmail Uçar's listed charges leveled against the lead investigators who headed financial and organized crime units in the İstanbul Police Department that exposed a crime syndicate involving Saudi al-Qadi and Erdoğan's son, Bilal, one cannot help but think that the next to be indicted must be naturally Lew and Cohen.

Commenting on the arrests, Erdoğan revealed that there may be another wave of them, confirming the publicly held view that he is the de facto chief prosecutor in this McCarthyism-style witch hunt. This investigation is nothing but a sham case to intimidate law-abiding citizens of this country.

Toeing the line for Erdoğan, who called al-Qadi a family friend and a friend of Turkey, the prosecutor asked the court to detain the police chiefs because they allegedly tried to discredit al-Qadi in the eyes of the Turkish public. Prosecutor Uçar added that by focusing on al-Qadi, with claims that he is among the list of names identified by the UN as terror financiers, the investigators wanted to attract the attention of the world. He went on to say that the investigators illegally obtained surveillance photos of al-Qadi's several meetings with Erdoğan and Turkey's intel chief Hakan Fidan. By allegedly leaking the photos to the press, the police chiefs wanted to destabilize Turkey and topple the Erdoğan government in December off last year.

These absurd accusations raised by the prosecutor as part of a politically motivated revenge operation against anti-corruption investigators are far from the reality and definitely make you feel as if you've made a voyage out of the world. Perhaps they make sense in a "parallel" world, a phrase Erdoğan loves to invoke quite often to refer to the imaginary enemy he invented in order to scapegoat his legal troubles stemming from corruption and other alleged criminal acts. Erdoğan's fantasies may hold up to scrutiny in the special kangaroo court he helped create by pushing unconstitutional legislation through Parliament using the majority his party holds. He may very well abuse the criminal justice system to discredit his opponents, including anti-corruption investigators who have done nothing illegal other than expose corruption and an organized crime network that implicated Erdoğan, his son and close associates.

Of course, Erdoğan and his loyalist prosecutors and judges do not have the guts to go after Lew and Cohen. That is not possible from a legal viewpoint considering jurisdictional issues, let alone from a political perspective, which may put Erdoğan in a jam by inviting the immediate wrath of the US administration. But the ill-thought-out reasoning requires that Lew and Cohen be cited as co-conspirators in the coup against the Turkish government allegedly plotted by the Turkish police chiefs. After all, Erdoğan has long maintained that the investigations amount to an international conspiracy against him, organized by a shady network nestled deep in the Turkish state: US Ambassador Frank Ricciardone, who is now retired; the interest lobby -- a veiled reference to Jewish bankers and financiers; members of a popular social movement called the Hizmet movement that is inspired by 76-year-old Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen; the European Union; the opposition parties in Turkey; wealthy business groups and more.

Well, leaving the "parallel" world behind and touching our feet back on the ground of the real world, let's examine how many holes there are in the government-orchestrated political witch hunt, which clearly abuses the criminal justice system in Turkey. For one, investigators did not pursue Qadi and his links in Turkey on their own. Yakup Saygılı, the former head of the financial crimes unit of the İstanbul Police Department who was unlawfully detained, said everything was done by the book and under the orders of the lead prosecutors in the manifesto-like, 40-page statement that Saygılı delivered during questioning. All wiretap records were obtained after the judge looking into the case approved the request so that they could legally be incorporated into the prosecutor's investigation file.

Erdoğan was not the prime target of the investigation as he cannot be legally prosecuted because of parliamentary immunity at the time. As Qadi's links were mapped out, it turned out that Erdoğan was intimately involved with al-Qadi. He was caught talking to suspects who were legally wiretapped by the court. The criminal procedure requires that Erdoğan's case be separated and referred to Parliament by the prosecutor for a legal investigation and possibly trial at the Constitutional Court, acting in the capacity of the Supreme State Council (Yüce Divan). The lead prosecutor in the Dec. 25 corruption case was thwarted from doing so because he was abruptly reassigned in the reshuffle that was orchestrated by the government.

But al-Qadi, Erdoğan's son, Bilal, Turkish officials who have no legal immunity and businesspeople involved in the crime syndicate were all charged by the prosecutor. Yet the court order to detain suspects, including Bilal, was, in an illegal act, not enforced by the government. The newly appointed prosecutors, including Uçar, who charged the police chiefs with coup plotting, have now dropped the investigation and cleared the suspects altogether.

The indictment against the police officers must have been prepared in haste because it is full of errors. For one, the charge sheet cites the Cumhuriyet daily for reporting details of the investigation on al-Qadi's meetings with Erdoğan and Fidan. In fact, it was the Karşı daily that first reported on these meetings with photos from the surveillance.

Second, the indictment refers to al-Qadi's listing as a terror financier at the UN Security Council committee monitoring sanctions against al-Qaeda as a "claim." That is completely false because the UN imposed sanctions on al-Qadi in 1999 and 2000, when he was named by UN Security Council Resolutions 1267 and 1333 as a suspected associate of Osama bin Laden's terror network, al-Qaeda. The UN sanctions committee granted Qadi's petition to be removed from its blacklist only on Oct. 5, 2012.

The investigation uncovered that Erdoğan met with al-Qadi 13 times. About half of these meetings happened before al-Qadi was delisted by the UN, violating the world body's rules. Erdoğan also violated his own government's decision that placed al-Qadi on a list of foreigners whose entry into Turkey was banned on July 24, 2003. This decision, taken by the Cabinet after the UN Security Council sanctions committee decisions, was revoked only on Oct. 19, 2012. Al-Qadi was not only traveling to Turkey, but also allegedly moving money and assets under cover of front companies that were involved in illegal land deals in violation of several Turkish laws.

The police have hard evidence in terms of photos verifying the meetings held at the Haliç Congress Center in İstanbul between Erdoğan and al-Qadi on April 14, 2012, in addition to wiretap records revealing al-Qadi's links to Erdoğan. The probe details demonstrated that al-Qadi was picked up by Erdoğan's guards at the airport and escorted into Turkish territory on a fake passport. Some of the meetings were also attended by intel chief Fidan, Khaled Mashaal, the long-exiled Hamas leader, Erdoğan's son Bilal, al-Qadi's son Muaz, al-Qadi's representative Usama Qutb, who is the nephew of Sayyid Qutb, a founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, and other businessmen.

Perhaps al-Qadi's meetings accompanied by intel chief Fidan and Mashaal indicate the meetings were not just about moving money and assets. It might have been linked to Turkey's foreign policy in the Middle East. The investigation file does not tell us about this dimension, and we may never know as the government has now stifled the case. If the case had ended up in a court of law with a trial phase, that may have been unearthed as well.

In any case, this was not the first time al-Qadi made the headlines in Turkey. His name surfaced in 2005 when he sought a legal challenge to the Turkish government's decision to freeze his assets in Turkey. Erdoğan's personal decision to thwart Turkish bureaucracy to rigorously fight al-Qadi's legal battle strained Turkey's ties with the US. Al-Qadi's alleged ties to Erdoğan and his illegal activity in Turkey remained merely claims back then. Now all these claims have been fleshed out with the hard evidence that can hold up to court scrutiny both in Turkey and abroad.

It is interesting that when al-Qadi created tension between Turkey and the US for the first time in 2005, it was Ross Wilson who was serving as US ambassador in Ankara. He had to deal with that until he left Ankara in 2008. Last week, Washington rushed to send the retired ambassador back to Ankara to serve as chargé d'affaires at the US Embassy. The official explanation for this highly unusual act was that Wilson was tapped to fill the gap pending the Senate confirmation of John Bass, US President Barack Obama's nominee as ambassador to Turkey. Perhaps the US wanted to engage Turkish officials in a more constructive way using Wilson's goodwill capital. But it appears he also has to deal with the al-Qadi case, again.

Published on Today's Zaman, 08 September 2014, Monday