November 6, 2015

Turkish police raid leading business unions days before G-20 summit

In the latest wave of political intimidation against government critics in Turkey, police searched the offices of a number of unions affiliated with the leading business group, the Turkish Confederation of Businessmen and Industrialists (TUSKON*) on Friday, an undesirable picture less than 10 days before the upcoming world leaders' summit is held in the country.

A police search was under way on Friday afternoon offices of three TUSKON member associations in Ankara on Friday afternoon. The search into TUSKON member offices was ordered by the bureau of crimes against the constitutional order, the Cihan news agency reported, adding that access to the investigation file is restricted.

The union is reportedly accused of financing terrorism. In a written statement on Friday, TUSKON confirmed the raids and declined reports of its headquarters also being searched by the police. Turkey is set to host the leaders of the world's 20 leading economies in the sea resort of Antalya on Nov. 15-16. Yet, a continuing politically motivated crackdown on critical businesses has already cast doubt on the right to property and free enterprise in Turkey, market experts stress. To say the least, the Justice and Development Party's (AK Party) repressive practices targeting political dissidents in the past few years, however, have taken a severe toll on Turkey's international standing as well as its credibility on the G-20 stage, they add.

Representing seven business federations, the nongovernmental TUSKON involves 211 associations and some 55,000 businessmen from all over the country under its roof. Largely known for its Africa-focused investment summits, TUSKON provides extensive support to businessmen seeking to contribute to the national economy within and outside Turkey's borders. It has four foreign offices, including in Brussels, Washington, Moscow and Beijing, and partner organizations in 140 different countries.

The search came soon after Koza İpek Holding, a business conglomerate close to the Gülen movement, was placed under the administration of a board of trustees as part of an investigation into allegations of financing terrorism. Twenty-two subsidiaries of the conglomerate, including four critical media outlets, were raided last week following the appointment of the board. The two seized newspapers that were part of the large company were quickly turned into government mouthpieces after the takeover.

In mid-September, the CEO of Kayseri-based Boydak Holding, Memduh Boydak, was briefly detained as part of a government-initiated operation. In mid-October, members of the İstanbul-based Florya Businessmen's Association (FİADER) were also detained on the same terrorism charges. Later in the same month, the prominent businessman Hazim Sesli was arrested as part of a police operation conducted in the western province of Uşak in which police detained 25 individuals on the grounds of “reasonable suspicion” that they were members of the so-called "parallel structure,” a phrase coined by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to refer to the Gülen movement.

Inspired by the US-based Turkish cleric Fethullah Gülen, the Gülen movement, which is better known in Turkey as the Hizmet movement, is a faith-based community against which the government has been pursuing a witch hunt since the outbreak of scandalous corruption allegations in 2013. Even though the movement strictly rejects the claims, the government accuses it of attempting to topple the government.

On Nov. 1, the AK Party, co-founded by Erdoğan in 2001, secured a return to single-party rule in an election result the president portrayed as a vote for stability but which opponents fear heralds growing authoritarianism.

Friday's police searches also targeted TUSKON-affiliated unions, including the Ankara Businessmen and Industrialists' Association (ANKİSAD), the Federation of Anatolian Businessmen (ANFED) and the Free Industrialists and Businessmen's Association (HÜRSİAD).

Published on Today's Zaman, 6 November 2015, Friday