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İzmir court issues arrest warrants for 51 people in widening espionage gang probe

13 June 2012, Wednesday /ORHAN FIRAT
An İzmir court on Wednesday issued arrest warrants for 51 people, most of whom are retired and active duty officers of the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK), as part of the second wave of an operation conducted by the İzmir Police Department's Anti-Smuggling and Organized Crimes Unit against a military espionage gang.

Simultaneous operations were launched in 16 provinces early on Wednesday, with police officers in Ankara, İzmir and İstanbul searching military barracks. The İzmir Public Prosecutor's Office announced that arrest warrants had been issued for 51 people. News sources said 15 of the suspects are colonels, majors and captains. Some of the suspects were reportedly taken into custody, but news sources did not indicate how many nor their identities. The locations raided also included military housing complexes. The active duty officers for whom detention warrants were issued are allegedly serving in critical positions in the Ministry of Defense, the Land Forces Command, the Naval Forces Command and the Gülhane Military Academy of Medicine (GATA). Their names were not immediately released.

The 51 suspects are reportedly accused of involvement in a military espionage gang. The first wave of arrests against the gang members began in May, when 20 people were arrested for involvement in the gang. The arrestees stand accused of prostitution, human trafficking, blackmail, illegally obtaining military information and establishing and running a criminal organization. According to earlier news reports, the gang is headed by a 25-year-old woman who is studying at Pamukkale University in Denizli.

The gang is accused of hiring foreign women as prostitutes for military officers from whom they obtained military information and then selling that information to third parties. The gang is based in İzmir and reportedly has branches in a number of provinces, including İstanbul, Ankara, Bursa, Antalya, Muğla, Manisa, Zonguldak and Ordu.

The investigation against the espionage gang started around a year-and-a-half ago after a specially authorized prosecutor ordered electronic and physical surveillance of the suspects.

On Wednesday, seven specially authorized prosecutors from Ankara joined police officers to supervise searches at military locations in Ankara as part of the operation against the espionage gang. The prosecutors were reportedly mobilized after the İzmir Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office asked for their support of the crackdown. In its written request to the Ankara prosecutors, the İzmir Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office said the investigation was targeting a gang that stands accused of “blackmailing, illegally obtaining personal data, establishing and running an illegal organization with the purpose of committing crime and seizing documents related to state security.” One of the locations searched in Ankara was the house of Ali Rıza Bildik, a retired colonel. Bildik was taken into custody, and taken to the Ankara Police Department for interrogation.

In İstanbul, police searched 14 locations, which allegedly belong to six active duty officers. It was not immediately clear whether the officers were taken into custody.

In the first wave of operation against the espionage gang, police discovered a large number of military documents and other materials, including CDs that showed intimate relations between military officers and foreign women hired by the gang. Police also seized confidential documents kept in military facilities dubbed the “cosmic room” and documents prepared by high-level military officers in the past that categorize members of the military according to their religious and ideological inclinations. Police also uncovered a military uniform and a military ID at the house of the suspected leader of the gang. The leader reportedly introduced herself as a noncommissioned officer to other military officers and easily had access to military facilities.

An espionage gang nested within the naval forces was discovered last year. The gang was accused of establishing a prostitution ring to extract vital state security information from high-ranking officers and senior bureaucrats through the use of blackmail for the purpose of selling sensitive information to foreign intelligence services. Currently more than 50 suspects are standing trial on charges of prostitution, espionage and blackmail.

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