Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had a routine in New York City, where he goes to the United Nations General Assembly every year to attend the traditional Turken Foundation Gala Dinner, which is chaired by his family members and relatives. However, that year Erdoğan did not take part in any Turkish event. The leader of Turken, along with a dozen other Turkish-American NGO officials, had a brief meeting with Erdoğan on Sunday. The reason for the Erdoğan office’s decision is that the foundation is threatened with serious allegations of illegally accepting Turkish taxpayers’ money. Interestingly enough, the foundation has not been active for a long time.
Registered by the US Internal Revenue Service as a 501(C)3 nonprofit educational organization, Turken was established in 2014 by the Ensar Foundation, notorious for numerous sexual abuse cases in Turkey, and the Turkey Youth and Education Services Foundation (TÜRGEV) , who is accused of unjustly benefiting from public funds. Turken is openly operating as part of Erdoğan’s deep network in the US. In an email exchange that surfaced in the inbox of Erdoğan’s son-in-law Berat Albayrak and was leaked by Wikileaks, Erdoğan’s son Bilal openly wrote to family friend Halil Danışmaz that he would dedicate his time to the Turken Foundation as part of his work in the USA. Halil Mutlu, the former leader of Turken and a cousin of President Erdoğan, now works as the ruling party’s US representative.
A survey by Nordic Monitor shows that no upcoming events have been announced on the foundation’s social media accounts. Contrary to its founding purpose, the foundation has never awarded scholarships. The last trip organized by the foundation for American university students was in 2019. There is no previous event announcement by the foundation for the gala dinner attended by Erdoğan in 2021. Even the meeting between the president of the foundation and Erdoğan last Sunday is not on the foundation’s website. The official website, which appears to have not been updated for a long time, contains very limited information about the foundation. Likewise, there is no work by Turks with media close to Erdoğan. The websites of the Turkish partners TÜRGEV and Ensar do not contain any up-to-date information about Turks, apart from statements about allegations by the opposition.
Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, leader of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), claimed in a statement on Twitter in May that Erdoğan had transferred money abroad through front companies posing as foundations, pointing to TÜRGEV, Ensar and Turken.
Kılıçdaroğlu wrote: “You are setting up a foundation. They appoint an American citizen as President. But the actual management of the foundation is handled by members of the Erdoğan family. Two foundations, TÜRGEV and Ensar, are sending money to an American citizen who will receive it on behalf of the Erdoğan family.” Kılıçdaroğlu claimed that around 1 billion liras were transferred. Party officials later clarified that Kılıçdaroğlu meant Turks.
Turks were also on the agenda in 2019 after opposition candidate Ekrem İmamoğlu became İstanbul’s mayor. His office announced that foundations and associations close to Erdoğan and his family received around 847 million lira ($145 million) in 2018 and late 2017. TÜRGEV, one of which was founded by Bilal Erdogan, received 51.6 million liras ($8.9 million), and the Ensar Foundation, which provides religious education and dormitories for students, received 29.8 million liras ($5.1 million). million US dollars) from municipal funds.
Turken received $24,460,759 in donations in 2015, according to US Internal Revenue Service tax records. As of June 2017, the endowment’s assets totaled $43,680,873. It is not yet entirely clear how they indicated the origin of the donations.
US representative of the CHP, Yurter Özcan, claims Turken illegally borrowed $35 million from the Islamic Development Bank in Saudi Arabia in June 2020. Also, according to Özcan, Turken received a total of $67 million in donations between 2014 and 2020, but information on donations she raised in the past two years is not available.
Turken is building a 21-story mixed-use residential tower designed as a cultural center and housing for Turkish students studying in New York. According to state-run Anadolu News Agency, the Manhattan building will have a prayer room, recreation area, offices and student accommodation and will accommodate 220 students.
The foundation also acquired the late boxer Muhammad Ali’s 81-acre estate in Berrien Springs, Michigan on December 21, 2018 for $2.5 million. The property is reportedly set to be converted into an educational camp and summer school.