Switzerland probes Turkish diplomats’ plot to kidnap pro-Gülen businessman

Switzerland is investigating whether Turkish diplomats planned to drug and kidnap a Swiss-Turkish businessman who is an alleged member of the Gülen movement, as part of a crackdown after a 2016 coup attempt in Turkey, federal prosecutors said on Wednesday.

According to a report by Reuters, the Swiss Tages-Anzeiger daily said that one of the two diplomats linked to the plot to snatch the Swiss-based businessman — who was allegedly active in the Gülen movement — remained at their job in Bern while a second had since returned to Turkey.

“The Office of the Attorney General can confirm that in this context a criminal case is being conducted on suspicion of political intelligence gathering … and prohibited acts for a foreign state,” the OAG said in an emailed statement. The investigation began in March 2017, it added.

The OAG said it had asked the foreign ministry to clarify whether the suspects enjoyed diplomatic immunity now or at the time of the alleged crime. Waiving any immunity was necessary to carry out further investigations, it added.

The Turkish embassy in Bern did not immediately respond to an email sent by Reuters seeking comment.

The OAG said a year ago that it had begun a criminal inquiry into possible foreign spying on Switzerland’s Turkish community.

Swiss intelligence got wind of the 2016 kidnapping plot while it was being hatched, Tages-Anzeiger reported, adding that the intended victim remains under police protection.

The Turkish Foreign Ministry has denied on Friday allegations that Turkish diplomats planned to drug and kidnap a Swiss-Turkish businessman as part of Turkish government’s massive post-coup witch hunt campaign targeting the alleged members of the Gülen movement.

“We utterly deny the baseless allegations contained in an article regarding ‘the attempted abduction of a Swiss business person’ published on website of the Swiss newspaper Tages-Anzeiger, which also targets our embassy and our personnel,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hami Aksoy said on March 16 in a written statement.

“If the newspaper that advanced these allegations and the Swiss authorities referred to in the article intend to take up serious and factual matters, they should instead focus on countering the terrorist [Kurdistan Workers’ Party] PKK and [Fethullah Terrorist Organization] FETÖ elements that have found refuge in Switzerland,” Aksoy added.

“FETÖ” is a derogatory name used by the Turkish government led by autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan for the Gülen movement.

Turkey survived a controversial military coup attempt on July 15, 2016 that killed 249 people. Immediately after the putsch, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government along with autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan pinned the blame on the Gülen movement.

Fethullah Gülen, who inspired the movement, strongly denied having any role in the failed coup and called for an international investigation into it, but President Erdoğan — calling the coup attempt “a gift from God” — and the government initiated a widespread purge aimed at cleansing sympathizers of the movement from within state institutions, dehumanizing its popular figures and putting them in custody.

Turkey has suspended or dismissed more than 150,000 judges, teachers, police and other civil servants since July 2016. Turkey’s interior minister announced on December 12, 2017 that 55,665 people have been arrested. On December 13, the Justice Ministry announced that 169,013 people have been the subject of legal proceedings on coup charges since the failed coup.

A total of 48,305 people were arrested by courts across Turkey in 2017 over their alleged links to the Gülen movement, Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu said on Dec. 2, 2017. “The number of detentions is nearly three times higher,” Soylu told a security meeting in İstanbul and claimed that “even these figures are not enough to reveal the severity of the issue.”

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