Berlin accuses Turkey of spying on Turks in Germany

Federal prosecutor opens preliminary espionage investigation as tensions ratchet up

Turkish citizens lining up outside the Turkish consulate to cast their votes in the  referendum on Monday  in Berlin. Photograph: Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Turkish citizens lining up outside the Turkish consulate to cast their votes in the referendum on Monday in Berlin. Photograph: Sean Gallup/Getty Images

 

Germany’s federal prosecutor has opened a preliminary espionage investigation into Turkey’s “paranoid” targeting of 500 organisations and individuals since last year’s failed military putsch.

Amid early balloting in Germany for next month’s controversial constitutional referendum which may boost President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s powers, authorities have warned Turkish voters to be wary of entering polling stations in consulates, which are considered Ankara’s sovereign territory.

The spy claims and voter warning mark a further escalation in strained bilateral ties that has seen Ankara accuse Berlin of “Nazi methods” for cancelled rallies of Turkish politicians in Germany.

On Tuesday, Turkey faced claims of “unacceptable and intolerable” spying on Turks and Turkish-Germans by the western state of Lower Saxony.

It was reported how, last month, Turkey’s intelligence officials handed their German opposite numbers names of about 300 people and 200 organisations in Germany, including schools. Turkish intelligence (MIT) reportedly asked for assistance in monitoring those mentioned in the dossier, which it claimed were linked to exiled preacher Fethullah Gulen.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan sees Mr Gülen as the instigator of last year’s failed coup and describes members of the Gülen movement as “terrorists”.

Video footage

As well as personal information, the dossier reportedly contained clandestine photographs and video footage of targets. Instead of carrying out the requested surveillance, German intelligence officers handed the list over to state governments.

They went public with the news, accusing Turkey of “something close to paranoia” for viewing all Gülen supporters of being “enemies of the state even though there is not the tiniest scrap of evidence”.

“To this date, we have no evidence whatsoever that Gülen supporters have violated any rules in any way,” said Boris Pistorious, Lower Saxony’s interior minister.

Federal interior minister Thomas de Maizière warned that “espionage activity on German soil is punishable and will not be tolerated by us” – something he had told Turkey “many times”.

Last month German police raided four premises in their hunt for imams believed to have handed over information on community members to the Turkish authorities.

In Turkey more than 40,000 people have been arrested over alleged links to the Gülen movement, as well as 100,000 others fired or suspended from their jobs as teachers, police officers, judges and journalists, many for suspected links to the Gülen movement.

Last week Germany’s foreign intelligence head told Der Spiegel magazine he had yet to see any convincing evidence that Mr Gülen, who lives in Pennsylvania, was behind last year’s coup.

An atmosphere of fear has reportedly spread among members of Germany’s three million-strong Turkish community, 1.4 million of whom are entitled to vote on Mr Erdogan’s plans to boost his powers as Turkish president.

Queues formed on Monday morning outside many of the 13 polling stations around Germany.

“These proposals,” he said, “are completely without compromise.”