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50 honorary consuls in Turkey found to have been involved in crime, research reveals

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A global investigation titled “Shadow Diplomats” has revealed that 16 percent of more than 300 honorary consuls representing foreign countries in Turkey, most of whom are Turkish citizens, were found to have been involved in crimes, Deutsche Welle Turkish service reported on Monday.

DW Turkish, which conducted the Turkey-related part of the global study by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) and ProPublica, an independent, nonprofit newsroom with over 100 journalists, said, citing Foreign Ministry data, that the number of registered honorary consuls representing foreign countries in Turkey had increased from 183 in 2011 to 340 in 2016, with 328 currently serving in the country.

It added that at least 50 of the honorary consuls were found to have been involved in such crimes as drug transportation, fictitious exports, illegal betting, human smuggling, dubious tenders and membership in the Gülen movement.

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) government label the faith-based movement as a terrorist organization and accuse Islamic cleric Fethullah Gülen, who inspired the movement, and his followers of masterminding a 2016 coup attempt. Both Gülen and the movement strongly deny involvement in the failed coup or in any terrorist activities.

Turkey has 108 honorary consuls in various countries, according to the ministry data.

Among the 328 honorary consuls in Turkey, 47 are in the tourism business, DW said, followed by construction (31), food (26), politics (22), industry (21) and football (18).

Among the politicians who have served as honorary consuls are 14 members of the ruling AKP, three members of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) and three members of the Motherland Party (ANAP).

Twelve close relatives of politicians also have the title of the honorary consul, including İlhami Yıldırım, brother of former vice president and current AKP deputy chairman Binali Yıldırım, DW said.

State-mafia relations, drug trafficking and murders implicating former and current state officials and their family members in Turkey have been brought to the country’s agenda many times during the rule of the 20-year rule of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government.

Notorious Turkish mafia boss Sedat Peker, the head of one of Turkey’s most powerful mafia groups and once a staunch supporter of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, sent shockwaves across the country in the summer of 2021 through scandalous revelations he made on social media about the dirty relations between the Turkish government and mafia and crime groups while he was living in exile in the UAE.

In one of his videos released on YouTube in 2021, Peker talked about the alleged involvement of the AKP in international drug trafficking, claiming that Erkan Yıldırım, son of Binali Yıldırım, was part of a major drug trafficking ring involving Venezuela and Turkey.

The global investigation identified at least 500 current and former honorary consuls who have been accused of crimes or embroiled in controversy, with some of them convicted of serious offenses or caught exploiting their status for personal gain, while others drew criticism for their support of authoritarian regimes.

No international agency tracks honorary consuls, and dozens of governments don’t publicly release their names, the research said, adding that convicted drug traffickers, murderers, sex offenders, fraudsters, weapons dealers and those who have advanced the interests of North Korea, Syria and other corrupt governments were found to have served as honorary consuls.

Nine current and former honorary consuls identified by ICIJ and ProPublica have been linked to terrorist groups by law enforcement and governments, according to the research, with most of them being tied to Hezbollah, a political party, social services provider and militant group in Lebanon designated by the United States and other countries as a terrorist organization.

Under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, honorary consuls were guaranteed the “freedom of movement and travel” in the countries where they served. They could communicate without restraint, their consulate records and correspondence protected from searches and their offices protected from “any intrusion … or impairment of … dignity.”

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