In the case, overseen by the 16th Chamber of the Supreme Court of Appeals, the prosecutors and judges — who had investigated cases such as Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Quds Force, Turkish intelligence agency MIT’s secret ties to terrorist groups and corruption networks that incriminated President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his associates in an Iran sanctions-busting scheme — are standing trial. Writes Abdullah Bozkurt
A malicious and vindictive prosecution of purged Turkish judges and prosecutors who had investigated high-profile cases that incriminated senior government officials turned out to be based on totally fabricated evidence.
The revelation was made during the deliberations at the Supreme Court of Appeals (Yargitay), the nation’s top criminal court, by the defense, which explained how the police prepared a false report connecting former prosecutors and judges to what was claimed to be a mysterious foreign telephone number in order to support bogus espionage charges against them. The false report was later incorporated in its entirety into an indictment by a judicial council inspector with no scrutiny of the so-called evidence.
In the case, overseen by the 16th Chamber of the Supreme Court of Appeals, the prosecutors and judges — who had investigated cases such as Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Quds Force, Turkish intelligence agency MIT’s secret ties to terrorist groups and corruption networks that incriminated President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his associates in an Iran sanctions-busting scheme — are standing trial.
The overtly pro-Iranian Erdoğan regime managed to hush up all these cases in 2014 and dismissed dozens of police chiefs, lead prosecutors and judges who were involved in the investigation, prosecution and trying of these cases. The purged law enforcement officers and members of the judiciary were later imprisoned and indicted on dubious charges.
The defense teams at the 16th Chamber hearings uncovered a scandalous scheme during a review of the evidence entered against suspects in the case file. It became obvious in a short period of time that In order to support serious charges such as espionage, the police had falsified phone records to make it appear that the prosecutors and judges secretly communicated with the same overseas phone number, allegedly located in the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT).
The 52-page report was drafted by the counterterrorism department of the Security General Directorate (Emniyet) on November 28, 2015 and submitted to the Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSK), the only authority able to investigate members of the judiciary. Based on the phone records of 54 purged judges and prosecutors, the police and later the HSK inspector maintained that the suspects had been in coordinated contact with a mysterious overseas phone number and concluded that this showed that the defendants were part of an organized crime group.
According to the report, the seven-digit phone number 246 78 06 was a common contact for all the judges and prosecutors to call and the first three digits were the country code for the BIOT.
During a chamber hearing on July 6, 2017 the defendants explained that the number actually belonged to a customer service number of the Florence Nightingale Hospital, right across from Istanbul’s Çağlayan Courthouse, where the prosecutors and judges had been working.
The correct number, the defense pointed out, should read with an area code of 212 for Istanbul, followed by a seven-digit phone number. Members of the judiciary were simply making calls to the nearby hospital to make appointments for medical exams and treatment for themselves and their families.
At the time, the Florence Nightingale Hospital had a contract with the courthouse, and payment for fees and treatment was covered by the general health insurance provided for employees of the courthouse by the government’s Social Security Institution (SGK).
In many cases, the court’s social security coordinator Kaan Özkubat made calls on behalf of the judges and prosecutors for appointments. When he was not around, judges and prosecutors were told to call in directly to the number given for the hospital. Police made the scenario even more mysterious by claiming that members of the judiciary sometimes used a go-between to make phone calls to what was alleged to be an overseas number.
What is more, the police described BIOT as an independent foreign country when in fact it is a territory of the United Kingdom located in the Indian Ocean halfway between Tanzania and Indonesia. The territory, home to a joint US-UK military base on Diego Garcia, is used only by American and British military personnel and civilian contractors. No indigenous population lives there.
Interestingly enough, even though the police report accused Özkubat of acting as a secret go-between for the purged judges and prosecutors because he repeatedly called the BIOT number according to the prosecutor, no prosecution was ever initiated against him. In fact, the government prosecutors dropped the investigation into what the police described as the go-between and accomplice in the crime.
Özkubat’s job description required him to make hospital and medical arrangements for courthouse employees, and he had repeatedly called the Florence Nightingale Hospital on behalf of the judges and prosecutors.
The judges and prosecutors who were suspects in the bogus espionage case tore apart the prosecutor’s indictment when they took the stand at the 16th Chamber of the Supreme Court of Appeals, which has the authority to try members of the judiciary in special procedures.
Stressing that the phone records had been tampered with, judge Mehmet Hamzaçebi told the panel of judges that “you can consider the information here [in the police report] to be intended to deceive your panel.” He said he made calls to the hospital service line when the courthouse’s social security coordinator was not available.
Hamzaçebi was a target of the Erdoğan government because he authorized wiretaps and surveillance of Quds Force operatives in Turkey when he was serving as a judge at the Istanbul 12th High Criminal Court, which oversaw the terrorism cases. The investigation incriminated dozens of Turkish and Iranian nationals including several senior government officials and aides of President Erdoğan. The investigation into the Quds Force, launched in 2011, was killed by Erdoğan in February 2014.
Bülent Kınay, a former judge and another defendant in the same case, told the chamber on December 26, 2017 that he was accused of placing a call to a number located in BIOT through Özkubat. Noting that he had never even heard of BIOT before, he said had to look it up on Wikipedia to learn about the UK territory.
“I wonder why I contacted through a go-between an island where even the locals don’t live anymore,” Kınay asked, adding that there was no such call made to a number located in the UK territory, but rather it was the court employee Özkubat who called the hospital across the street from his office and talked to an employee named Öznur to make arrangements for judges and prosecutors.
“The number 246 78 06, which was described as located in the British Indian Ocean Territory, is in fact the number of this hospital. If the inspector [of the HSK] had bothered to add the 212 area code to the number, he would have reached the same person [Öznur, a hospital employee working at the reception desk],” Kınay said.
According to Kınay, this was not an honest mistake by the police but rather was part of a deliberate effort to frame him and the others in the case. “It is clearly a conspiracy against us to make a phone number in the city [of Istanbul] look like an International phone number. I hope those who did this will be held accountable under the law,” he added.
Kınay was one of the judges who granted warrants for wiretap and surveillance requests filed by prosecutors who investigated the IRGC Quds Force cells in Turkey.
Mehmet Ali Uysal is a former prosecutor who was accused of espionage because of this phone number as well. He also explained at the hearing that the phone belonged to the hospital and that the courthouse employee Özkubat made the call on his behalf.
“Mysteriously inserting the hospital number [in the indictment] and connecting that to overseas really leaves no words to say. It just makes you give up and say no more. It is absolutely unlawful to manufacture evidence and to put it in an indictment like this,” he told the judges at 16th Chamber on May 2, 2019.
Uysal was a prominent prosecutor who cracked down on a drug trafficking network in Turkey. His last investigation into the street drug trade in August 2013 exposed famous people involved in the drug business.
Nalan Can, a former judge, is another innocent member of the judiciary who was accused of espionage because she received an SMS message from the same phone number. She told the panel on December 18, 2019 the message was from the Florence Nightingale Hospital, not the the British Indian Ocean Territory. “If the inspector had bothered to investigate, he would have learned that there is no such country as British Indian Ocean Territory,” she stated, adding that BIOT is used for military purposes only.
Can was a member of the Istanbul 17th High Criminal Court, which tried high-profile cases including those of notorious gangs and criminal syndicates nested in the Turkish military, police and intelligence services. The case irritated powerful people in the government for exposing wrongdoing in the security branches, and she became a target because she did what she was supposed to do under the laws and constitution of Turkey.
In total, 54 judges and prosecutors were accused in the case on dubious charges. They face life sentences for rulings they issued as judges in the past or investigations they conducted as prosecutors. The case is still pending at 16th Chamber of the Supreme Court of Appeals.
The Erdoğan government has purged some 30 percent of all judges and prosecutors in Turkey since 2015, claiming that they are all terrorists because of their alleged association with the Gülen movement. The group, led by US-based Turkish Muslim scholar Fethullah Gülen, has been a vocal critic of the Erdoğan government on a range of issues from pervasive corruption in the administration and Turkey’s aiding and abetting of armed jihadist groups.
In addition to the four mentioned earlier, the following judges and prosecutors are standing trial at the 16th Chamber on bogus charges:
Adnan Çimen, Mesut Özcan, Ümit Zafer Çolak, Yakup Hakan Günay, Ayhan Bedirhan, Rüstem Eryılmaz, İsmail Tandoğan, İsmail Işık, Ramazan Saban, Hikmet Şen, Hadi Çağdır, Sedat Sami Haşıloğlu, Muammer Akkaş, Hakan Karaali, Murat Üründü, Mustafa Çavuşoğlu, Mehmet Ekinci, Kazım Kahyaoğlu, Durmuş Yiğit, Celal Kara, Eşref Aksu, Salim Duran, Gökmen Demircan, Seyfettin Mermerci, Mustafa Boz, Adem Özcan, Murat İnam, Dursun Ali Gündoğdu, Mehmet Berk, Mustafa Başer, Sadrettin Sarıkaya, Abdullah Mirza Coşkun, Rasim Işık Altın, Mehmet Karababa, Muzaffer İrren, Cihan Kansız, Nurullah Çınar, Yakup Kaya, Vedat Dalda, Abdullah Öztürk, Davut Bedir, Menekşe Uyar, Birol Bilen, Hüseyin Ayar, Osman Kaya, Metin Özçelik, Hikmet Usta, Mehmet Erdoğan, Süleyman Karaçöl and Fatih Mehmet Uslu.