EU officials' close ties with Gülenist organizations raise questions

ALI ÜNAL @ali_unal
ANKARA
Published 08.11.2015 19:53
Updated 08.11.2015 19:54

USA Today, which is the largest circulated U.S. daily, reported on Oct. 29 that Gülen Movement-affiliated organizations funded as many as 200 trips to Turkey for members of the U.S. Congress and staff since 2008 in violation of federal laws. High-level sources from the European Commission (EC) and European Parliament (EP) told Daily Sabah that Gülenist organizations funded dozens of trips to Turkey for members of the EP as well as EC staff in order to develop stronger relationships with high-level EU officials and used these connections to leak and manipulate Turkey's EU progress report. The Gülen Movement, headed by retired fugitive cleric Fethullah Gülen from his residence in Pennsylvania, U.S., operates schools, business associations and media organizations in a number of countries including the U.S. and many European countries.

Ankara views the movement as a threat to Turkey's national security. It has been accused of infiltrating state institutions in Turkey and attempting to overthrow the government. It has been referred to as the Gülenist Terror Organization (FETÖ) by a prosecutor in a recent indictment. According to sources from the EC and EP who spoke to Daily Sabah on condition of anonymity, Gülen Movement-affiliated business associations such as the Turkish Confederation of Businessmen and Industrialists (TUSKON) arranged and funded dozens of trips to Turkey in order to forge closer ties with high-level EU officials and politicians since 2009. The sources accused EC official Christos Makridis, a former deputy head of the Turkey Unit at the Directorate General of Neighborhood and Enlargement Negotiations, of having close connections to Gülenists. Makridis served as the deputy head of the Turkey Unit from 2006 to 2014 and allegedly participated in several Gülenist-funded trips to Turkey. Other than visiting Ankara and Istanbul as part of official trips to Turkey, Makridis also allegedly visited Black Sea provinces such as Trabzon and Giresun with Gülenists. In July 2010 Makridis participated in a panel organized by Gülen Movement-affiliated business associations in Trabzon along with the TUSKON Brussels representative. Makridis is a Greek citizen whose lineage traces back to the Black Sea province of Giresun. During the trip he visited his ancestors' gravesite, which was repaired by Gülen Movement-affiliated business associations in order to gain his sympathy, sources claimed.

In return for these favors, Makridis leaked draft versions of Turkey's EC Progress Report to Gülen Movement-affiliated newspapers days before its announcement, sources further claimed. Articles on Turkey's EU Progress Report that were published in Today's Zaman, an English language newspaper tied to the Gülen Movement, also provide support for these claims. For instance, the EC's 2012 Progress Report for Turkey was released on Oct. 10, but almost every detail about the report was published in two articles in Today's Zaman on Sept. 20 and Sept. 23, 2012. Similarly, the 2013 Progress Report for Turkey was released on Oct. 16, but details of the report were leaked by the same paper on Sept.14, almost two weeks before any other Turkish papers ran stories.

Sources also claimed that the Gülen Movement-affiliated business association TUSKON funded dozens of trips to Turkey for European parliamentarians. Sources said British politician Sir Graham Watson, the president of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe Party (ALDE Party), also participated in Gülenist-funded trips and allegedly has close ties with prominent Gülenist figures.

The EC sets out ethical rules for commissioners to abide by while they are in office and after they leave. There are clear and strict rules regarding gifts and hospitality: "Commissioners shall not accept hospitability except when in accordance with diplomatic and courtesy usage."

The Gülen Movement has previously conducted lobbying activities against the government in significant capitals such as Washington, Brussels and Strasbourg, which has adversely affected Turkey's foreign politics.

The Gülen Movement is a transnational movement led by the U.S.-based imam Fethullah Gülen. It is accused of wiretapping thousands of people including government officials and encrypted phones. It has over 140 private schools around the world including in the U.S., Europe, Asia and Africa. It has been accused of infiltrating state institutions in Turkey and trying to overthrow the government. Government officials have continuously expressed their determination to continue to lawfully fight the Gülen Movement, whose followers are accused of infiltrating state institutions to gain control of state mechanisms and illegal wiretapping, forgery of official documents and spying.

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