Members of the controversial Gülen Movement, who have been accused of defrauding donors to their charities, were detained in the western city of İzmir on Saturday. The suspects were transferred to court yesterday with the prosecutor's office seeking their arrest, while details of the investigation revealed their "himmet" ring.
Himmet is the name given to the fundraising by the Gülen Movement that stands accused of an attempt to overthrow the government. Although it is technically a type of donation, Gülenists allegedly force businesspeople in particular to finance the movement and blackmail and imprison those refusing to donate through sham trials by their affiliates in the judiciary and police.
Saturday's operation, which was started by the İzmir police, also covered the seven others cities of Sivas, Gümüşhane, Çanakkale, Kütahya, Denizli, Aydın and Muğla. An İzmir prosecutor ordered the operations against Gülenists as part of an investigation against Gülen Movement, which has been implicated in a string of crimes ranging from fraud to blackmail.
Among the suspects detained in İzmir were teachers and businesspeople who were "leading a life of luxury via money they collected through persuasion, threat and blackmail," Turkish media outlets reported. They are accused of channeling donations to the movement instead of using them for charity work, organizing trips financed by donations for the movement's members to African countries where the movement has a ubiquitous presence. Another accusation is that Gülenists defrauded donors by purchasing sacrificial animals for low prices from African countries, telling donors that the animals, which were slaughtered during Eid al-Adha for food for the poor, were bought in Turkey for a higher price.
Evidence gathered in the investigation found that Gülenists collected at least TL 5 million ($1.8 million) from donors. The suspects are also accused of not registering the donations as required by law.
Bekir Baz, the alleged representative of the Gülen Movement in Turkey's Agean region where İzmir is located, remains at large, while media outlets claim he fled abroad, as police raided his house as part of the operations in İzmir.
The Gülen Movement, led by Fethullah Gülen who lives in self-imposed exile in the U.S., is seen as a threat to national security by Ankara, as it is accused of infiltrating top state institutions, including the police and judiciary, and wiretapping thousands of people, including senior officials, journalists, actors, heads of nongovernmental organization and others.