On 15 July 2016 elements of the Turkish armed force and police service launched a coup d’état against the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Despite initial appearances of a successful seizure of the government apparatus, the coup-plotters were eventually overwhelmed by loyalist forces.
The government’s response was wide-reaching and severe. Blaming the coup on Fethullah Gülen, an influential Islamic cleric currently in exile in the U.S., the state launched a major crackdown on his perceived followers. Although the initial purge concentrated on the security forces – with tens of thousands of bureaucrats and thousands of military officers arrested – it quickly widened to all sectors, civilian, political and military.
In particular, there is now a systemic threat facing businesses. In September 2016, the Turkish conglomerate Koza-İpek Holding – which includes mining companies and media assets – had assets worth approximately TRY38.5 billion (USD10 billion) seized by the government over alleged links to Gülen’s movement. Although the size of the seizure is unparalleled, hundreds more businesses have been expropriated by the state on grounds of collaboration with the coup-plotters. A further major investigation is under way against Doğan Holding, one of the largest conglomerates in the country, with a wide portfolio ranging from the energy to tourism sectors. On 5 January 2016 police raided the company’s headquarters in the commercial capital Istanbul, claiming the action was in response to links between Doğan and Gülen.
It appears that Erdoğan is using the coup to suppress any internal dissent. Doğan controls several media sources which have been critical of Erdoğan, such as the Hürriyet newspaper. The Turkish government has harassed the conglomerate before the event of 15 July, for example by restricting it from tendering for government contracts. A2 therefore assesses that the purge is being used as political cover by Erdoğan to crack down on individuals and entities he perceives as being hostile towards him.
There is now a systemic threat facing businesses
Due process is not, and will not, be respected in legal cases. Turkish security forces have taken action against the families of arrested individuals, in some cases preventing them from leaving the country and in other cases simply detaining them. For example, the families of several military officers – who fled to Greece after the coup failed – have had their passports seized by Turkish police.
This poses immediate and severe risks for businesses and staff in Turkey. Individuals who find themselves accused of links to Gülen are likely to face harassment or detention by Turkish security forces, and their business interests expropriated by the state. A2 assesses that current legal processes with respect to the coup do not meet international legal standards and are subordinate to the political objectives of the government. In particular, journalists and media outlets which have publicly criticised the government are at severe risk of being labelled as coup sympathisers and are therefore liable to arrest by Turkish security units.
A2 urges all foreign personnel in Turkey to minimise the risk to themselves by not making public or online statements critical of the government or supportive of the coup attempt. Firms should immediately retain specialist advice as to how to legally challenge any attempt at expropriation, although any chance of success against the government will be slight. Management should be sensitive to any concerns which local staff have over their own safety, although evacuating Turkish nationals deemed as at risk of harassment or detention by security forces could result in foreign companies being viewed as complicit in their alleged offences. Any decision to help such individuals to leave the country should also be clearly made outside Turkey and at the highest corporate level.