July 20, 2023 | Washington Examiner

Turkey is granting citizenship to international criminals 

July 20, 2023 | Washington Examiner

Turkey is granting citizenship to international criminals 

The reelection of Recep Tayyip Erdogan as Turkey’s president is resurfacing the question of whether Turkey is reanchoring itself in the Western alliance. Nothing could be further from the truth. As a limited number of pundits consider such a question, Erdogan is pressing ahead with undermining the security interests of its allies. Consider, for example, the case of to whom Turkey grants citizenship.

As part of its “golden passport” program, Turkey is providing sanctuary to international criminals by selling Turkish citizenship to anyone who can pay the fee. Many countries grant citizenship opportunities to a variety of people who meet financial, aspirational, or need-based criteria. Only a handful of countries pursue a policy of actively granting citizenship to people with overt criminal backgrounds. Erdogan’s Turkey is a poster child for such an effort, thereby inhibiting international law enforcement agencies’ efforts to apprehend notorious criminals, purposefully undermining Western states’ safety and security.

Reporting by Vice identifies Turkish passports being given specifically to drug traffickers, who “are using Turkey’s citizenship laws to evade trial in other countries.” Rawa Majid, a known Iraqi-Kurdish drug trafficker being pursued by Swedish law enforcement officials, purchased Turkish citizenship for approximately $400,000 in 2020. Although Sweden, along with Interpol, has requested his extradition, Turkish authorities have refused to extradite him for two reasons: first, because of his Turkish citizenship, and second, because Sweden has refused to extradite people to Turkey whom Erdogan identifies as “terrorists.”

This is incredible, as the Erdogan government has been roasting Sweden for not doing enough to address Ankara’s “security concerns.” Most of these concerns are focused on Sweden’s freedom of expression protections that have permitted the burning of Qurans and the existence of people who are allegedly affiliated with the pro-Kurdish and separatist Kurdistan Workers’ Party. These are the main stated reasons why Sweden’s application to NATO is being held up by Erdogan. If Turkey wants its security concerns to be taken seriously, how does it justify granting passports to known criminals?

In addition to Majid, Dutch law enforcement officials have raised similar concerns about Turkey’s protection of high-profile drug traffickers, namely Jos Leijdekkers, known as “Bolle Jos.” The Dutch government is offering a 200,000-euro reward for information that leads to his capture. Leijdekkers is at the top of the list for Europe’s most wanted for charges that include murder and cocaine trafficking. Like Majid, he purchased Turkish citizenship and is allegedly able to move freely between Turkey and Dubai, which is also under the spotlight for allegedly providing protection to criminals.

Aside from drug traffickers, Turkey is known to provide passports and residence to international terrorists affiliated with Hamas. Turkey refuses to acknowledge Hamas as a terrorist organization while at the same time attempting to rebuild substantive diplomatic ties with Israel. In 2020, Turkey granted citizenship to Ismail Haniyeh, a key Hamas leader residing in Turkey, allowing him to acquire a Turkish passport and travel internationally with increased ease. Ankara also allows Hamas to maintain offices and an open dialogue with Erdogan. In December 2022, Turkey also granted citizenship to Moaz Ismail Haniyeh, son of Ismail Haniyeh.

Finally, Turkey continues to back al Qaeda-affiliated entities in Syria, namely Hayat Tahrir Al Sham. Ankara provides weapons, salaries, and logistical support as a means to limit and undermine the influence of Syrian Kurdish groups, such as the U.S.-aligned People’s Protection Units, which Ankara considers to be a terrorist organization because of its ties to the Kurdish Workers’ Party.

Turkey has been attempting to develop ties with a number of powers in the Middle East, including Israel, Egypt, and the United Arab Emirates. Additionally, Turkey has been seeking to appropriate fighter jets from Washington and renegotiate key parts of its existing economic relationship with the European Union, namely the Customs Union.

To advance these policy goals, Washington and European allies must pressure Ankara to tighten its citizenship laws, extradite wanted international criminals on valid warrants, and designate Hamas as a terrorist entity and take appropriate steps to disestablish its organizational base in Turkey.

Sinan Ciddi (@SinanCiddi) is a nonresident senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, in which he contributes to FDD’s Turkey Program and Center on Military and Political Power. FDD is a Washington, DC-based, nonpartisan research institute focusing on national security and foreign policy.