ANKARA: Germany has accused a Turkish think tank of being a front for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s party and spreading government propaganda in Europe.
The Foundation for Political, Economic and Social Research (SETA) has had an office in Berlin since 2017.
SETA is known to be financed by the family of Erdogan’s son-in-law and former finance and treasury minister, Berat Albayrak, and it has representative offices in Brussels and Washington D.C.
Germany’s parliament accused SETA of collecting intelligence and spreading the views of the Turkish government using scientific research activities as a cover.
The federal government said that SETA’s aim was to garner influence in German public opinion and frame the political debates about Turkey with various instruments, including nominating candidates in local elections. It was acting in response to a parliamentary inquiry from the Free Democratic Party (FDP).
Stephan Thomae, from the FDP, said the government had lost its patience and abandoned its cautious approach toward Turkey’s efforts to establish diplomatic leverage in Germany, Deutsche Welle reported.
“It has been clear for some time that SETA is part of the government of Turkey 's information game,” tweeted Steven A. Cook, a senior fellow at the New York-based Council on Foreign Relations. “Too few in Washington understand that it is not actually a research organization.”
SETA previously came under fire from the international community in 2019, when it published two reports.
It catalogued the correspondents of international news outlets in Turkey, while another report on the structure of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in Europe claimed that the group collaborated with racist white supremacists on the continent.
Press freedom groups condemned the SETA media report as a dangerous escalation in the treatment of journalists, and a criminal complaint against the SETA report was filed on a series of charges including “inciting the public to hatred and enmity.”
The report profiled social media sharing and the personal backgrounds of Turkish journalists who worked for international media, including Arab News, effectively making them a government target.
Germany’s internal intelligence service, BfV, has been investigating SETA’s activities in Germany for a while. Last month it published a report accusing SETA of pursuing the Turkish government’s agenda in Germany.
“US authorities should follow suit with SETA’s Washington counterpart. This propaganda shop has long been the main beacon of Erdoganism in the United States,” Sinan Ciddi, associate professor of national security studies at the Marine Corps University in the US, tweeted.
Turkish opposition parties’ requests for a parliamentary inquiry about SETA’s financial resources and activities were rejected by Ankara in 2019.
SETA has been exempt from tax since 2013, unlike other think tanks in Turkey.
The Turkish presidency’s communication director Fahrettin Altun and the presidency’s lead spokesman Ibrahim Kalin used to work at SETA.
SETA has not yet released an official statement about the German government’s claims.