ANKARA, Turkey — Turkey’s security and intelligence forces detained 26 people in a March 30 joint operation, charging the suspects with defense industry espionage and of belonging to what the Turkish government claims is a secretive terrorist organization run by self-exiled Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen.
The Turkish police announced the detentions, which took place in five different provinces. An anti-terror court released seven suspects and ruled for the arrest of 19.
“This probe aims to reveal the Gulenist infiltration into Turkey’s national defense industry,” said a judicial official familiar with the investigation. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accuses Gulen of masterminding the July 2016 coup attempt. The cleric lives in the United States, and the Turkish government has demanded his extradition.
A security official said that the 26 detained are former employees of state-controlled entities:
- 16 are former employees of Turkish Aerospace Industries.
- Four are former employees of military electronics specialist Aselsan, Turkey’s largest defense company.
- Two are former employees of military software concern Havelsan.
- Two are former employees of the Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey, otherwise known as TUBITAK.
- One is a former employee of missile-maker Roketsan.
- One is a former employee of the government’s defense procurement agency, previously known as the Undersecretariat for Defence Industries (SSM) but was later renamed the Presidency of Defence Industries (SSB).
The judicial official said a long legal process will follow, during which the defendants will stand trial. He would not offer a prediction of the verdicts. There will most likely be an appeals process, the official added, with the entire process taking several years.
In December 2018, several dozen engineers and officials working for what law enforcement authorities described as “critical indigenous programs” were detained as part of a government probe in Turkey.
More recently, in January, six suspects were detained in Turkey in an alleged fraud scheme involving defense industry contracts. The detentions, reported by the government on Jan. 12, came after a joint covert operation by the Turkish police force and the National Intelligence Organization, or MIT. The suspects are charged with selling classified and secret data pertaining to defense industry programs.
The chief prosecutor’s office in Ankara said the operation targeted “a group of people involved in illegal activities in defense industry.” MIT and the police said they had the suspects under surveillance since last year, having suspected them of influencing defense programs and contracts in exchange for bribes.
According to the prosecutor’s office, the suspects shared confidential data and information about the projects’ resources, pricing, technical specifications and contractual progress to foreign defense companies.
“Foreign company representatives shared this data with their companies and gained advantages in tenders and their own projects,” according to a statement from the prosecutor’s office.
Burak Ege Bekdil is a Turkey correspondent for Defense News. He has written for Hurriyet Daily News, and worked as Ankara bureau chief for Dow Jones Newswires and CNBC-e television. He is also a fellow at the Middle East Forum and regularly writes for the Middle East Quarterly and Gatestone Institute.