September 1, 2015

Media group targeted with politically motivated search warrant

The government has launched a police raid on the corporate offices of a critical media group that has already been facing heavy government pressure for the last three years, citing highly questionable reports as evidence supporting the execution of the search warrant.

The long-running politically motivated investigation into businessman Akın İpek and his business took a new twist on Tuesday when the police raided the headquarters of Koza İpek Holding and its subsidiary companies. The move is seen as part of the government's attempt to muzzle independent and critical media ahead of the election and is possibly a prelude to their eventual takeover using trumped-up charges.

The search warrant issued by Mustafa Çorumlu, the judge at the Ankara 7th Penal Court of Peace, a one-year-old judicial mechanism that has largely become a government tool to try and imprison dissidents, ordered the police to conduct searches of 23 companies owned by the group. The list included the Ankara bureaus of the Kanaltürk network and the Bugün daily, though the police did not show up at these locations at the time Today's Zaman went to print.

The police from the Ankara Police Department's Anti-smuggling and Organized Crime Bureau (KOM), Counterterrorism Unit (TEM) and Anti-cyber Crime Bureau were all deployed alongside riot police to the business premises belonging to the group. İpek's personal residence was also raided, with the police seizing all his personal belongings including his cell phone and computers.

The search warrant cited two reasons for ordering raids on Koza İpek Holding. One was an erroneous electronic fund transfer in the amount of TL 122 million (approximately $42 million) that was sent to the Koza İpek Education and Health Services Foundation by leading steelmaker Ereğli Iron and Steel Co. Akbank, a private bank that is owned by Sabancı Holding, later informed Koza İpek that the funds were transferred to the foundation's account in error due to a technical fault in the bank's database. The original recipient was supposed to be steel company İskenderun Iron and Steel Co. The correction was made by the bank.

Despite the fact that the bank sent an explanation letter to the prosecutor's office certifying that the fault with the erroneous funds transfer lied with the bank due to a technical error in its database, the Anti-constitutional Crimes Investigation Bureau at the Ankara Chief Prosecutor's Office claimed the explanation was not convincing, without offering any reasoning on how the prosecutor's office reached the conclusion.

In an interview with Bugün TV on Tuesday, İpek told reporter Tarık Toros he had not conducted any business dealings with any steel company in the past and said if there was a mistake with the funds transfer the authorities should investigate the bank rather than his company.

In the search warrant, Judge Çorumlu also approved the prosecutor's request to investigate if the Finance Ministry's Financial Crimes Investigation Board (MASAK) had been notified about transfers by Koza İpek Holding amounting to 7.04 billion dollars to its own companies in Bahrain, Malta and Cyprus using Finansbank, Garanti Bank, Akbank and Bank Asya. The prosecutor stated that all documents of the group including accounting books should be seized to verify what he admitted appeared to be perfectly legal transactions.

İpek reacted to the allegations, saying banks automatically notify the central bank and MASAK on large and suspicious transactions and that there was no need to raid his offices to verify if the allegations are true. He said if there are any doubts on these transfers, MASAK should first investigate the banks. İpek said his companies are traded publicly and that all quarterly reports detailing expenses and incomes are audited and certified by internationally known accounting companies.

Koza İpek Holding Chairman İpek is known to be a supporter of the Hizmet movement, a volunteer-based education and inter-faith dialogue movement inspired by the views of Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen. Then Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan accused the Hizmet movement and its supporters of attempting a coup against his government via a corruption probe and had publicly declared war against the group. Gülen has strongly denied such accusations and Erdoğan has failed to present any evidence linking him to the graft probes.

Erdoğan targeted members of Hizmet in what the opposition described as a witch-hunt against critics by abusing the criminal justice system and government investigative powers. All key positions in the government and the judiciary were replaced by partisan and loyalists including MASAK, which was instrumental in exposing the 2013 graft network that implicated senior government officials and Erdoğan's family members.

Since the major graft operation became public, Erdoğan has continuously referred to peaceful group Hizmet as a terrorist organization that, acting on the orders of foreign powers, is trying to stage a coup against him.

Toeing Erdoğan's line, the prosecutor said the investigation against İpek is based on claims that he is a member of a terrorist organization, has financed terrorism, conducted propaganda on its behalf and embezzled money.

Published on Today's Zaman, 1 September 2015, Tuesday