Turkish Red Crescent caught in corruption scandal

In this file photo taken on December 12, 2019 shows a view of tents at a camp for displaced Syrians at Khirbet al-Joz in the west of the northwestern Idlib province near the border with Turkey, where residents survive mostly on aid and barely have enough money to buy food and clothes to keep warm. (AFP)
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Updated 01 February 2020

Turkish Red Crescent caught in corruption scandal

  • The incident causes social uproar and undermines prestige of the aid group

JEDDAH: Turkey’s Red Crescent organization has found itself embroiled in a serious corruption scandal after a document detailing a donation from a private company to the pro-government Ensar Foundation through the humanitarian aid group was revealed.

The corruption, which is believed to go beyond one incident, has caused a social uproar and seriously undermined the prestige of the group.
As all donations made to Turkish Red Crescent are tax deductible, Baskent Gaz — a private natural gas distribution company which is owned by a pro-government business group, Torunlar — gained a tax advantage of about $1.5 million by donating $8 million on Dec. 27, 2017 and recording the donation as expenses.
Afterward, the aid group transferred about $7.9 million to the Ensar Foundation.
What triggered public anger was not only the tax evasion, but also the fact that the donation was made to a foundation which was at the center of a child sexual abuse scandal a year earlier.
A teacher working in a provincial branch of the Foundation was sentenced for sexually abusing 10 male school children between the ages of 10 and 12 from 2012 until 2015. The scandal seriously undermined the image of the foundation, although it has still kept its close ties with the government.
The donation could have been made directly to the infamous Ensar Foundation, but going through Turkish Red Crescent brought significant tax advantages to Baskent Gaz.
Turkish Red Crescent confirmed the transaction with a statement released on Jan. 30, and stated that the money would be used for constructing student dormitories. However, according to the official financial document leaked to the public, Turkish Red Crescent received only $75,000 of this donation.
Turkish Red Crescent refrained from giving a statement to Arab News.
The aid group had already been put under the spotlight when its head, Kerem Kinik, urged Turkish citizens to donate money a few minutes after the deadly earthquake in the eastern province of Elazig on Jan. 24.
The call from Turkish Red Crescent stirred a widespread debate about the effective and transparent usage of earthquake taxes that have been collected from public on an obligatory basis for years.


What triggered public anger was not only the tax evasion, but also the fact that the donation was made to a foundation which was at the center of a child sexual abuse scandal a year earlier.

Public prosecutors quickly launched investigations against several anti-government celebrities in Turkey who used their social media accounts to criticize the misuse of these taxes.
“To evade tax is not the same with avoiding tax. The difference is that in one of them, the state legally gives you a privilege,” Kinik said in a televised interview.
Kinik has also been criticized by nominating his own son, Furkan Kinik, as the vice director of the youth branch of the aid group.
Turkish daily Birgun, known for its leftist credentials, released another document showing that this donation may not be unique in Turkish Red Crescent’s record. Between 2016 and 2018, donations increased by 32 times compared to the previous period.
Birgun drew attention to the fact that many other foundations might have received donations through such a scheme.
Emrah Gulsunar, a political analyst from Lund University in Sweden, thinks that “there is no rule of law in Turkey. The priority for them is the continuation for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his ruling AKP regime.”
“The mission of Turkish Red Crescent is not being a meditator for other companies to be tax exempted. This is an apparent abuse of the privilege that is given by laws for bona fides,” he told Arab News.
According to Gulsunar, this move meant using Turkish Red Crescent as a mediator for the purposes of tax evasion.
“Turkish Red Crescent is an accomplice of this operation,” he added.

How the FSO Safer is an impending danger to the Red Sea and Yemen

Updated 21 September 2020

How the FSO Safer is an impending danger to the Red Sea and Yemen

  • Houthi refusal of passage to experts to carry out repairs has raised specter of a floating time bomb
  • Saudi Arabia has called for a meeting for Arab environment ministers to discuss ways to avoid a catastrophe

AL-MUKALLA, Yemen: Until the Iran-backed Houthi militia seized Yemen’s western port city of Hodeidah in late 2014, foreign and local experts had been regularly visiting a 45-year-old oil tanker moored in the Red Sea.

It was a practice that ensured that the FSO Safer, abandoned just a few kilometers off Yemen’s coast, did not touch off a disaster by exploding or sinking and spilling oil. But having witnessed the devastation caused by the Aug. 4 blast in Beirut and taken its lessons to heart, the Arab world cannot afford to ignore the imminent danger posed by Houthi stalling tactics.

Expressing concerns about the condition of the vessel, Saudi Arabia has called for a meeting for Arab environment ministers on Monday. According to a statement issued on Sunday by Kamal Hassan, assistant secretary-general and head of the Economic Affairs Sector at the Arab League, the aim of the special session is to discuss ways and mechanisms to activate Resolution No. 582, which was adopted by the Council of Arab Ministers Responsible for Environmental Affairs in Oct. 2019.

The objective is to “find an appropriate solution to avoid an environmental catastrophe due to the failure to maintain the oil ship Safer anchored off the Ras Issa oil port in the Red Sea since 2015.”

When the Houthi militia gained control of Hodeidah, the FSO Safer was carrying 1.1 million barrels of oil, or almost half of its capacity, according to local officials. No sooner had the fighters tightened their grip on the city than technical experts fled the area, realizing that it had become too dangerous for them to stay on.

Over the past two years, the FSO Safer has attracted regional as well as international attention on and off, thanks in part to the regular appearance on social media of photos of rusting pipes and water leaking into the engine rooms, raising the specter of a floating powder keg.


45 Age of oil tanker FSO Safer

1.1m Barrels of crude oil in tanker

During the same period, Yemeni government officials, environmentalists and foreign diplomats have sounded the alarm over possible outcomes that could both exacerbate the humanitarian crisis in Yemen and take a heavy environmental toll on the Red Sea littoral states.

The UN has suggested sending a team of experts to Hodeidah to assess the damage to the FSO Safer, but the Houthi militia, who want to pocket the proceeds from sale of the oil, have rejected the proposal. The oil in the FSO Safer’s storage tanks was once estimated to be worth $40 million, but its value now may be less than half of that as crude prices have fallen a lot since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, according to reports.

The internationally recognized government of Yemen has repeatedly accused the Houthi militia of using the decaying tanker as a bargaining chip, citing demands such as the resumption of salaries for public servants in areas under its control, removal of government forces from Hodeidah, and more relaxed inspection of ships bound for the port.

An oil spill would devastate the livelihoods of nearly four million Yemeni people, with fishing stocks taking 25 years to recover. (AFP)

In July, the government requested the UN Security Council to convene an urgent session to discuss the Safer issue amid concern that time was running out. In almost all their meetings with foreign envoys and diplomats, Yemeni officials bring up the matter of the tanker and the attendant risk of an environmental disaster in the Red Sea. For the past several months, Western and Arab diplomats, UN officials, aid organizations and experts too have underscored the urgency of breaking the deadlock in order to avert a human, economic and environmental catastrophe.

In July, the UN described the rusting tanker as a “ticking time bomb,” adding that the tanker’s cargo of oil could cause an environmental disaster four times bigger than the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill off Alaska. Last week, the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres added his voice to the growing concern over the deadlock by appealing to the Houthi militia to give UN experts access to the oil tanker.

As for the Trump administration, its views were conveyed via a tweet by the US mission to the UN that said: “The US calls on the Houthis to cease obstruction and interference in aid ops and fuel imports. We urge the Houthis to cease their assault on religious freedom and to permit UN technical teams immediate, unconditional access to the Safer oil tanker.”

In comments to Arab News in June, Michael Aron, the British ambassador to Yemen, said unless the Houthi leadership allowed experts to address the FSO Safer’s problems, the potential damage to the environment is far greater than that caused by the recent spillage of 20,000 tons of fuel in Russia’s Siberia. “The threat to the environment in the Red Sea is enormous, and will impact on all the countries who share this coastline,” he said.

Independent researchers too say the condition of Safer is deeply concerning. In a paper for the Atlantic Council in 2019 entitled “Why the massive floating bomb in the Red Sea needs urgent attention,” energy experts Dr. Ian Ralby, Dr. David Soud and Rohini Ralby said the potential consequences of an oil-tanker disaster in the area include an end to the two-year ceasefire in Hodeidah and an aggravation of Yemen’s humanitarian crisis.

“The risk of explosion increases by the day, and if that were to happen, not only would it damage or sink any ships in the vicinity, but it would create an environmental crisis roughly four and a half times the size of the Exxon Valdez oil spill,” the three scientists said. Other experts have speculated that just a stray bullet from an exchange of fire between rival factions could trigger off an explosion of the FSO Safer’s oil cargo.

Yemeni NGO Holm Akhdar says 126,000 people working in the fishing industry could lose their jobs in the case of a disaster.

“Even worse, given the complexity of this war, an errant bullet or shell from any one of the combatants could trigger a blast as large as Beirut’s August 4th disaster, prompting a historic oil spill,” Dave Harden, managing director of Georgetown Strategy Group, wrote in an op-ed in The Hill last month. He added: “Clean-up efforts would be daunting — given the insecurity of being in a war zone and the additional health risks from COVID-19.”

Similar concerns have been expressed by local government officials and fishermen in Hodeidah. Waleed Al-Qudaimi, deputy governor of Hodeidah, said that any spillage from the FSO Safer would create a humanitarian crisis as severe as the one caused by the Houthi insurgency.

“It (the oil spill) will add an additional burden that will affect Yemen for the next decades, deprive thousands of people of their jobs and destroy marine biodiversity in Yemeni waters,” he said. Al-Qudaimi appealed to the international community to keep up pressure on the militia to allow maintenance work to be carried out.

For a country reeling from a combination of conflict, humanitarian crisis, plunging currency and crumbling economy, repairs to an abandoned oil tanker off its coast might not carry the ring of urgency normally associated with a major disaster.

But now that the world knows what happened when Lebanese officials ignored warnings for years over a cache of highly explosive material stored in a Beirut port warehouse, the importance of resolving the FSO Safer issue cannot be overstated.


Twitter: @saeedalBatati