The Turkish government used its diplomats in Switzerland to profile opponents of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and gather intelligence about them to help forge a criminal case against critics, Nordic Monitor reported.
Judicial documents have confirmed that educators, representatives of local associations, journalists, professionals and businessmen living in Switzerland had been profiled by Turkish diplomats and reported to the Foreign Ministry in Ankara. Then information was later used in a criminal indictment for a charge of terrorism by a Turkish prosecutor.
In 2018 the Swiss attorney general launched a criminal inquiry into spying on Switzerland’s Turkish community by Turkish diplomats. The Swiss foreign ministry confirmed that the accusations outlined in the criminal proceedings were not diplomatic tasks and that therefore the people concerned could not avail themselves of immunity.
According to a December 14, 2018 decision by prosecutor Birol Tufan, the Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office launched a separate investigation (file no. 2018/27915) into 96 Turkish and Swiss nationals who were listed in espionage files dispatched by Turkish diplomats in the country without any concrete evidence of wrongdoing.
According to the documents they were charged with “membership in a terrorist group” by Tufan.
A judicial document dated December 14, 2018 reveals spying on critics in Switzerland by the Turkish diplomatic missions. (The addresses and names of the Turkish nationals have been redacted for security reasons.):
Two Turkish diplomats, then-Press Attaché Hacı Mehmet Gani and Hakan Kamil Yerge, then-second secretary at the Turkish Embassy in Bern, plotted to drug and kidnap a Swiss-Turkish businessman in 2016.
In June 2018 the Office of the Attorney General of Switzerland issued arrest warrants for the two Turkish diplomats and confirmed that they would be arrested upon their entry into Switzerland. According to local reports, criminal proceedings against the two diplomats were launched in March 2017. Yerge left Switzerland in November 2016, whereas Gani remained until August 2017.
The Turkish diplomats were accused specifically of having gathered political intelligence for another state and of having attempted to kidnap a Swiss businessman with Turkish roots.
Critics of the Erdoğan government abroad, especially members of the Hizmet/Gülen movement, have been facing surveillance, harassment, death threats and abduction since President Erdoğan decided to scapegoat the group for his own legal troubles. They have often been denied consular services such as power of attorney and birth registry as well as having their passports revoked. Their assets in Turkey are seized and their family members at home risk criminal charges.
The judicial documents once more confirmed that spying activities by Turkish diplomatic missions result in serious consequences in the Turkish judicial system.
As previously disclosed by Nordic Monitor, the foreign ministry sent lists of profiled Turkish nationals in two CDs to the Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office, the national police and Turkey’s intelligence agency MIT on February 19, 2018 via an official document for further administrative or legal action, the punishment of their relatives back in Turkey and the seizure of their assets.
Public prosecutor Akıncı, who received the foreign ministry document on February 23, 2018, forwarded the classified CDs including information on 4,386 Erdoğan critics to the Organized Crimes Unit of the Ankara Police Department for further action. The police conveyed the results of its investigations to the public prosecutor.
According to judicial documents released by the Ankara 4th High Criminal Court on January 16, 2019, the foreign ministry compiled a long list of foreign entities that were owned and/or operated by people who were seen as close to the movement.
Moreover, Nordic Monitor revealed how MIT infiltrated refugee camps in Greece in order to spy on opponents who were forced to flee to Greece to escape an unprecedented crackdown in neighboring Turkey.
Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu confirmed systematic spying on Turkish government critics on foreign soil as by Turkish diplomatic missions in February, 2020. Çavuşoğlu said Turkish diplomats assigned to embassies and consulates have officially been instructed by the government to conduct such activities abroad. “If you look at the definition of a diplomat, it is clear. … Intelligence gathering is the duty of diplomats,” Çavuşoğlu told Turkish journalists on February 16, 2020 following the Munich Security Conference, adding, “Intelligence gathering and information collection are a fact.”
It is clear that Turkish diplomatic missions violate the domestic laws of receiving states and the principles of international law by conducting unlawful information-gathering campaigns and sweeping intelligence operations. Erdoğan’s envoys enjoyed the privileges and immunities described in the international conventions while they systematically spied on critics of the president, collected information on Turks living abroad and transmitted it to headquarters.
The immunities and privileges of diplomats and consular staff are governed by international conventions. However, diplomats enjoying the privileges and immunities described in the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations are under a duty to respect the laws and regulations of the receiving state and to avoid interfering in its internal affairs as detailed in Article 41. Similarly, consular staff are granted limited privileges and immunities by the Vienna Convention on Consular Affairs, but the host state authorities can start investigations and prosecute any of the personnel if they perpetrate crimes inside or outside the consulate premises, according to Article 43 of the convention.