Turkish gov’t tries leading businessmen over their alleged links to Gülen movement

Turkish government has continued to try leading businessmen over their alleged links to the Gülen movement on Thursday. Ankara businessman Verdal Hosta was tired at Ankara 18th High Criminal Court over his alleged links to the Gülen movement and the court has demanded imprisonment sentence for Hosta between 7,5 years to 15 years on charges of “membership of a terror organization.”

On the same day, İstanbul 23rd High Criminal Court has tried businessmen Murad Abdurrahman Baltacı, Ömer Faruk Kavurmacı, who is son-in-law of former mayor of İstanbul, Kadir Topbaş and Faruk Güllü. The court has ruled for release of Baltacı and continuation of others’ pre-trial detentions.

Jailed businessman Hosta and his lawyers attended the trial at Ankara 18th High Criminal Court. Hosta said that thewitness’ statements were not based on any information or documents, and that all was lie and slander. By rejecting the accusations that he often went to the United States and met Fethullah Gülen, Hosta said “The court should apply to the passport branch office. The records are quite obvious.”

After the defendant testimony, the prosecutor stated that Hosta is the owner of Hosta Et and Gıda Ticaret Sanayi Limited and he has connection with the Gülen movement that he provides financial aid. The prosecutor has also claimed that Hosta coordinated the businessmen on the behalf of the movement. Referring to a file by the Financial Crimes Investigation Board (MASAK), the prosecutor claimed that  there were money transfers between the companies owned by Hosta and individuals or companies affiliated with the Gülen movement.

The prosecutor has also claimed that Hosta’s usage of mobile phone messaging application ByLock was determined. Prosecutor stated that Hosta wanted to take advantage of effective remorse, but it could not be applied because of that the statements of Hosta were not in the nature of giving information about the crimes committed within the framework of the organization’s structure and activities. So, the prosecutor demanded the continuation of the defendant’s imprisonment and from 7,5 years to 15 years prison sentence in accordance with the 314/2 article of the Turkish Penal Code (TCK).

Hosta has argued that he did not intentionally and willingly become a part of the organization, he was never in its hierarchical structure and did surrender his free will to anyone. Expressing that he wanted to take advantage of effective remorse, Hosta said, “I repeat my previous testimony, I have been presenting sincere statements to the court, I have also made sincere explanations about ByLock, and I used the application in 2014. Historical Traffic Search (HTS) reports confirm me as well. I used it for a little while. There was no such organization on that date. I didn’t install this program intentionally and willingly to commit a crime. ‘Hosta Food’ went bankrupt in 2000 and my company’s bankruptcy was announced in 2001. I have no company so I can provide financial assistance to the movement,” he said.

Turkish authorities believe that ByLock is a communication tool among the alleged followers of the Gülen movement. Tens of thousands of people, including civil servants, police officers, soldiers, businessmen and even housewives, have either been dismissed or arrested for using ByLock since the failed coup attempt on July 15, 2016.

Verdal Hosta’s lawyer has also stated that his client was a bankrupt businessman and that he washed his hands of the commercial life, so that it would not be a matter of financial aid to the organisation. Explaining the interim verdict after the statements, the court ruled that the parties should be given time to defend their views on the substantive judicial opinion. The court, which decided to continue the detention of the defendant Verdal Hosta, postponed the trial on February 13, 2018.

Meanwhile, İstanbul 23rd High Criminal Court decided for continuation of the detention of former Kavurmacı and Güllü, and the release of Murad Abdurrahman Baltacı, who was tried under detention in the case of Turkish Confederation of Businessmen and Industrialists (TUSKON), which is labeled by Erdoğan government as the businessmen structure of the Gülen movement. TUSKON was closed by the government in the aftermath of a controversial coup attempt on July 15, 2016.

During the 10th hearing of the case against the TUSKON’s 86 members, 21 of them are under arrest, the lawyers and defendants’ demands for release were taken by the Istanbul 23rd High Criminal Court. The court decided to evacuate the businessman Baltacı while decided on the continuation of pre-trial detention for 20 defendants including Kavurmacı and Güllü.

TUSKON was the umbrella organization for 211 businessmen’s associations in Turkey and 150 others in several countries. It was organizing investment and business and trade fairs under the auspices of the Turkish government. However, TUSKON was shut down on July 23, 2016 with decree-law no. 667 on false terror charges. The government has seized almost 1,000 companies in the last year alone, and $11 billion in corporate assets have been confiscated. The personal assets of TUSKON members were also frozen or seized.

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 Turkey’s 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 civil servants since July 15, 2016. Turkey’s Justice Ministry announced on July 13 that 50,510 people have been arrested and 169,013 have been the subject of legal proceedings on coup charges since the failed coup.

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