September 3, 2015

Architect of Turkish Penal Code slams gov’t for abuse of MASAK powers

Professor İzzet Özgenç, one of the main authors of the Turkish Penal Code (TCK) and the Code on Criminal Procedure (CMK), has slammed the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government's attempts to seize the assets of a critical media group by abusing powers on the prevention of financial crimes.

Özgenç, a criminal law expert who worked closely with parliamentary commissions in drafting the penal codes, said the government's plan to freeze and seize the assets of economic entities and social groups that have clearly nothing to do with terrorism is a "mental lapse in judgment." The Turkish government is reportedly planning to seize a big conglomerate whose media holdings are critical of the government ahead of the Nov. 1 general election by orchestrating falsified reports issued by the Finance Ministry's Financial Crimes Investigation Board (MASAK), which is led by a partisan figure. The government-led police raids on the corporate offices of Koza İpek Holding in Ankara and its subsidiaries on Tuesday were carried out after MASAK submitted a report to the Ankara Public Prosecutor's Office, whose allegations were published by the pro-government media, despite the holding refuting the report's findings.

In a two-page letter dated Aug. 14 and submitted to the Anti-constitutional Crimes Investigation Bureau at the Chief Prosecutor's Office in Ankara, MASAK President İbrahim Hakkı Polat asked the prosecutor to seize the conglomerate and appoint a trustee to replace the existing board of directors. He claimed that the investigation into the holding's assets can be done better if the government takes over the company. Özgenç said the Turkish government has never applied the asset seizure to a person or a group that is seen financing the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and the European Union. He recalled that the government was given new powers when Parliament approved Law No.6415 on the Prevention of the Financing of Terrorism on Feb. 7, 2013. Stressing that the Cabinet of ministers has adopted 51 decisions to freeze the assets of individuals, groups and organizations since then, he lamented that not a single one of them involved the PKK. He also explained that the same law gave the Turkish government new powers to ask a foreign government to freeze the assets of individuals, and organizations that finance terrorist groups threatening Turkey. Yet, Özgenç said this power has never been invoked so far by the government.

The PKK is reported to possess assets totaling at least $60 billion, according to Turkish financial intelligence units. The terrorist group has assets in EU countries and in the US, made from drugs and arms trafficking as well as legal trade across borders. In 2011, the US Department of Treasury announced that Cemil Bayık, Duran Kalkan, Remzi Kartal, Sabri Ok and Adem Uzun were named as Specially Designated Narcotics Traffickers pursuant to the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act. The five individuals were described as founders and leaders of the PKK. The criminal law expert slammed the government for hypocrisy as it now wants to exercise these powers to seize the assets of an economic entity, Koza İpek Holding, which has clearly no connection to any terrorism whatsoever. Koza İpek has interests in mining, energy as well as media that is critical of the government. The opposition described the police raids as sheer intimidation to muzzle free press ahead of the election. Koza İpek may not be the only one the government plans to seize. Last week, Twitter whistleblower Fuat Avni claimed that the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan have revised a planned crackdown on critical media outlets to also include some leading Turkish investors. Doğan Media Group owner Aydın Doğan as well as other businesses including Kavala, Eczacıbaşı and Boyner groups are targeted, he revealed.

Avni said: “Doğan will be accused of financing the PKK and the revolutionary People's Liberation Party/Front [DHKP/C], Eczacıbaşı and Muharrem Yılmaz of funding 2013's nationwide anti-government Gezi protests, Boyner Group for funding the pro-Kurdish, leftwing Peoples' Democratic Party [HDP] and Osman Kavala for supporting the PKK.” He alleged that the government decided to delay a crackdown on one of Turkey's largest corporations, Koç Holding, “to avoid overreaction.” Özgenç also noted MASAK powers cannot be abused to freeze assets that belong to a social group. He was referring to Erdoğan's campaign to have the assets of civil society groups confiscated by the state through fabricated claims such as labeling them as "terrorist groups" ahead of the upcoming November election. The Gülen -- or Hizmet -- movement has been targeted by Erdoğan and the pro-government media, which is used to defame the country's anti-government civil society and business groups as well as individuals. Erdoğan accuses the Gülen movement of being a "parallel structure" -- a derogatory term he invented -- that aims to topple the AK Party government, a claim that was rejected by Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen. Erdoğan said that the fight against the movement will be sped up at home and abroad by closing down or confiscating those schools affiliated with the Gülen movement.

Published on Today's Zaman, 3 September 2015, Thursday