"Mr. Solmaz, I got your number from a local journalist in Brussels. You mention my name among the partners of the company in your story. I do not have any connection with that structure [the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ)]," Hüseyin Şahin told me after my exclusive story, "FETÖ media's Belgium-based front company exposed." Şahin, one of the public figures for FETÖ in Belgium, is the former chairman of the Belgian-Turkish Businessmen's Association (BETİAD). I did not know about him before he called me. Daily Sabah obtained official records of a Gülenist company and Şahin's name appeared among the "management staff" list. The story was about FETÖ operatives in Belgium establishing a front company named Cascade Investments N.V. to take over a substantial part of the group's media wing in Turkey, including the Zaman newspaper and Cihan News Agency (CHA), all of which were under the Cihan Media Group.
When Şahin landed in Istanbul on Feb. 19, he was immediately taken into custody, where confessed deep ties with the group in his initial testimonies. After standing a trial last week, he was arrested on charges of membership of a terrorist organization with prosecutors seeking up to 16 years in jail.
During his confessions, Şahin reportedly said his involvement with FETÖ started in 1997 and that he led BETİAD between 2007 and 2009, upon demand from the organization.
He said he had given around 150,000 euros ($168,697) in donations to FETÖ's "accountant" Abdurrahman Demir. Şahin also confessed that he traveled to Pennsylvania in 2005 to visit Fethullah Gülen . "The Prophet [Muhammed] is here right now. He is on a visit to the American continent," Gülen reportedly told Şahin and the others present in the room.
Gülen is known for playing on people's emotions and faith with mystical claims and self-attribution. Şahin said he also contributed 3,000 euros to the establishment of the Gülen Chair at the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, a prestigious Belgian university.
While prosecutors demanded seven to 15 years of jail term for Şahin, he asked for active repentance and identified 55 FETÖ operatives in Belgium. Many FETÖ confessors were set free after providing substantial organization information.
Gülenists' Zaman trick failed
A FETÖ front company, Cascade Investments N.V., filed a complaint against Turkey with the International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) for the compensation of the cost of the companies that were confiscated and transferred to the Savings Deposit and Insurance Fund (TMSF) and demanded a settlement worth multi-million euros. It was later revealed that a judicial process was also initiated against Turkey.
Mehmet Akif Afşar, the executive chair of the Feza Media Group, which included the now-defunct Zaman daily, assigned the assets of the company to the Belgium-based company in return for a check before a state trustee was appointed to the media group. Afşar, whose properties were confiscated on Dec. 22, 2016, is being sought for his links to the terrorist group.
The checks were not accepted and the cash flow did not move from the Belgium-based front company to the media group. Meanwhile, it turned out that the buildings and other sources belonging to Zaman were transferred to the Cihan Media Group and no payment was made to Feza Media for this. Also, Cihan Media started leasing the property it purchased but did not pay Feza Media TL 800,000 per month.
Resorting to a clandestine yet clumsy method prior to the coup attempt, FETÖ operatives assigned the company to the foreign front company for an absurd price. Speaking to Daily Sabah, the trustee committee administrators said a value between TL 750 million and TL 1 billion was set for the assets of the company when they assumed leadership on March 4, 2016, but they could not find enough cash to pay for the personnel and other expenses since a case expense was not found to file a lawsuit, as the company was evacuated and there were problems even in the payments of personnel expenses.
Saying that the Belgium-based company was revealed to be owned by several FETÖ members at the time, the trustee committee administrators added that no contact could be made with the relevant people and they sent a Belgian to Turkey as the company's spokesperson only to create a smokescreen.
According to the Belgian Finance Ministry, having usurped Feza Media's assets worth almost TL 1 billion, the FETÖ administration sold Cihan Media to a Belgium-based company for TL 3 million. Also, it was revealed that the publishing equipment and other valuable press items belonging to the media company were sold to several people for low prices with 10-year terms of condition that the payment would start a year later.
Gülenists sue Turkey, demanding 80 million euros
It is alleged that Cascade Investments N.V., which bought Cihan Media – worth approximately at TL 1 billion – for TL 3 million, demanded 80 million euros in the complaint it filed at the ICSID. The ICSID has started evaluating the case in which a London-based international law firm named Hogan Lovells International represents the Belgian company, which is a plaintiff.
Front company founded as cautionary measure
According to the company information obtained from financial sources, Cascade Investments N.V. was established as a joint stock company in August 2006 in Brussels with 400,000 euros.
The management staff included several members of FETÖ's business associations, including Kenan Sezer, Mustafa Ünal, İskender Kapaklıkaya, Hüseyin Şahin, Ahmet Tanrıkulu and Ali Aktan.
Having 400 shares when it was newly established, the company's partners, Aktan and Tanrıkulu, held 100 shares each while Şahin and Sezer had 60 each and Kapaklıkaya and Ünal each had 40.
The front company, which had only a small amount of assets until the Dec. 17 and Dec. 25 judicial coup process started to expand its resources when operations against FETÖ's media wing began in 2015.
Having issued 600 new shares toward the end of 2015, the company registered these shares under the name of Orhan Azizoğlu, who came to Belgium from Australia and has some links to the Zaman newspaper, according to WikiLeaks sources.
With the new shares, Azizoğlu owned 60 percent of the company. In the company's recent records, the head office is ostensibly located in Anvers, and company executive Mesut Mutlu's residential address is in Cologne, Germany, according to the records.
Front company pays zero taxes to Belgium
The financial sources also show that FETÖ's front company has not paid taxes in Belgium since its establishment in 2006. According to records from the Belgian Treasury, the company has not paid taxes by declaring losses every year. According to official records, the company's declared 136,000 euros in losses in 2008, 138,000 euros in 2009, 7,000 euros in 2010, 22,000 euros in 2011, 30,000 euros in 2012, 51,000 euros in 2013, 67,000 euros in 2014, 45,000 euros in 2015, and 79,000 euros in 2016.