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.
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.