Erdoğan’s long arm: Deutsche Bank closes accounts of Erdoğan opponents without giving any reason

The headquarter of the Deustche Bank, Germany's biggest lender, is pictured in Frankfurt am Main, western Germany on January 29, 2014 ahead of their annual results press conference. AFP PHOTO / DANIEL ROLAND (Photo by DANIEL ROLAND / AFP)

Germany’s Deutsche Bank has closed the accounts of three opponents of Turkey’s authoritarian President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan without providing a reason, possibly over dubious risk intelligence that relies on information coming from Ankara, which labels dissidents as terrorists, Turkish Minute reported, citing the Die Welt news website.

One of the three affected by the bank’s decision spoke to Die Welt and said he was notified in March that the bank was exercising its right to close the account without specifying why.

According to the report, three persons have one thing in common: They are all members of the Gülen movement, a worldwide civic initiative inspired by the ideas of Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen.

Turkey’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) government launched a war against the Gülen movement after the corruption investigations of Dec. 17-25, 2013 that implicated then-prime minister and current President Erdoğan’s family members and inner circle.

Dismissing the investigations as a Gülenist coup and conspiracy against his government, Erdoğan designated the movement as a terrorist organization and began to target its members. He intensified the crackdown on the movement following a coup attempt on July 15, 2016 that he accused Gülen of masterminding. Gülen and the movement strongly deny involvement in the abortive putsch or any terrorist activity.

According to the report by Die Welt, the victims of Deutsche Bank’s decision discovered that since December 2021 a note about them had been posted on the international financial database of Refinitiv, a private company that says it helps address issues of service providers with Politically Exposed Persons (PEPs).

Refinitiv’s customers include some of the world’s largest banks, according to the company’s website. The service is mostly used to check whether account holders have been sanctioned or have links to white-collar crime, moneylaundering, terrorism, drug trafficking or weapons or human trafficking.

Die Welt’s report says the database has the name of one of the three that describes him as a member of a terrorist organization, FETÖ, a derogatory acronym used by Ankara to refer to Gülenists as terrorists.

Although Deutsche Bank is silent about the matter, the Die Welt report says it is possible the bank is using the intelligence of the Refinitiv database.

Deutsche Bank told the customers that there were no political reasons for closing the accounts and that it was a procedure to be followed as they had not used the accounts for some time. However, while this might be the case for one of the account holders, the others say they were actively using their accounts.

Erdoğan opponents’ accounts have already been closed by major banks in other countries, such as Britain and New Zealand, the Die Welt report says.

Turkey’s relentless crackdown on the Gülen movement

After the failed coup the Turkish government declared a state of emergency and carried out a massive purge of state institutions under the pretext of an anti-coup fight. More than 130,000 public servants, including 4,156 judges and prosecutors, as well as 29,444 members of the armed forces were summarily removed from their jobs for alleged membership in or relationships with “terrorist organizations” by emergency decree-laws subject to neither judicial nor parliamentary scrutiny.

A total of 319,587 people have been detained and 99,962 arrested in operations against supporters of the Gülen movement since the coup attempt, Turkey’s Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu said in November.

In addition to the thousands who were jailed, scores of other Gülen movement followers had to flee Turkey to avoid the government crackdown.

A report by Freedom House on global transnational repression in 2021 revealed the intensity, geographic reach and suddenness of the Turkish government’s campaign targeting dissidents abroad, noting that Turkey has become number one among countries that have conducted renditions from host states since 2014.

According to the report, Ankara’s campaign has primarily targeted people affiliated with the Gülen movement, but the government has started applying the same tactics to Kurdish and leftist individuals living abroad.

The Freedom House report also indicated that the Turkish government has pursued its perceived enemies in at least 30 host countries spread across the Americas, Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Asia since the 2016 coup attempt.

According to official statements by its interior ministry, Turkey has sent 800 extradition requests to 105 countries since the attempt, and more than 110 alleged members of the movement have been brought back to Turkey as part of the government’s global campaign.

Risk intelligence databases enable Ankara to harass dissent abroad

Classifying the political asset seizure decisions as “risks” for their customers, firms providing database services to banks and companies become enablers of Erdoğan’s relentless transnational repression campaign on his opponents.

There are many other Gülen movement members who say they were affected by the notes of these databases. Adem Yavuz Arslan, a Turkish journalist, living in exile in the United States, says his Uber and bank accounts were suspended due to the asset freezes on his name in Turkey, which were issued to punish his critical stance.

Erdoğan opponents abroad are preparing to launch a class action lawsuit against such firms in Europe, a Turkish scholar in exile said on Twitter last week.

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