Turkey’s Interior Ministry has launched an investigation into 29 municipalities, the majority of them run by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), on suspicion that they helped Turks enter Europe under false pretenses, using official gray passports, local media reported on Thursday.
The gray passports, also known as service passports, provide visa-free entry to various countries and can be issued in Turkey for people on official assignment, while municipalities can also request a passport for anyone who takes part in any official trip.
What recently turned out to be a series of incidents of alleged passport scam so that dozens of Turks could enter Europe on gray passports using official projects and events scheduled abroad as a pretext was initially revealed by the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) earlier in April.
The CHP claimed that more than 40 people were sent by Malatya province’s Yeşilyurt district municipality to Hannover to attend an environmental workshop held by German company Mega Kilit GmbH between Sept. 15 and 27, 2020 and never returned.
Turkey’s Interior Ministry then launched an investigation into the alleged passport scam in Malatya, which was followed by probes into a number of other district municipalities in provinces that include Balıkesir, Adıyaman, Burdur, Yozgat, Şanlıurfa and Ordu on similar accusations.
The Ministry also announced a temporary suspension of the issuance of gray passports to people who are not civil servants to prevent further abuse following the scandal in Malatya.
Meanwhile, Thomas Klinge, a senior German prosecutor, recently brought charges against Ersin Kilit, a 39-year-old Turkish entrepreneur from Hannover who is suspected of providing documents in the alleged scam in Malatya, according to Turkish media reports.
Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu on Wednesday announced in televised remarks that 804 out of some 109,000 people who have gone abroad using official gray passports since 2018 never returned to Turkey.
Deutsche Welle reported on Thursday that Gerd Schäfer, a senior Bavarian prosecutor, said he had been conducting an investigation into 30 suspects on allegations of taking part in a passport scam since January but that the probe hadn’t yet involved anyone who sent invitations for Turks to enter the country.
The DW report also said Hasan Turan, a member of the Turkish parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee from the ruling AKP, recently revealed that he found out from a journalist about the alleged passport scam long before it became public knowledge earlier this month and then informed the Interior Ministry, urging an immediate investigation into the claims.
A parliamentary motion to investigate allegations of municipalities sneaking dozens of Turks into Europe with special passports was turned down by the ruling AKP and its ally, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), on April 21.