Supreme Court outlines shortcomings in case against those arrested for intercepting MİT trucks

According to a report on Tuesday by the news portal, the 16th Criminal Chamber of the Supreme Court of Appeals issued a 16-point ruling on Nov. 26. The judges at the chamber decided to issue a notice to the prime ministry’s office and the National Security Council (MGK), asking them to verify that the officials who accompanied the trucks were duly authorized by the government for the transportation of arms and, if that was the case, to procure copies of the original order for such a mandate. They also asked the government to confirm whether the shipment was categorized as a “state secret.”

The searching of the MİT trucks led to the arrest of prosecutors Suleyman Bagrıyanık, Ahmet Karaca, Aziz Takcı and Ozcan Sisman, as well as Col. Ozkan Cokay, in May 2015 on charges of “attempting to topple or incapacitate the Turkish government through use of force or coercion” and “exposing information regarding the security and political activities of the state.” A life sentence in prison is sought for the five defendants.

The arrested prosecutors have long argued that the MİT agents who accompanied the trucks failed to show the authorization papers for what they believed to be illegal arms destined for radical groups in Syria. They also asserted that the Intelligence Law that was in effect at the time of the incident did not allow the MİT to ship arms overseas. The fact that the government rushed to amend the Intelligence Law in Parliament immediately after the incident was further proof that the shipment was not legally authorized. The prosecutors further claimed that the conditions for labeling the shipment as a “state secret” were simply non-existent in the case.

The whole indictment prepared against the arrested prosecutors and colonel was based on an expert testimony. Neither the government nor the MİT were listed as a complainant in the case. No testimonials were taken from the MİT agents or the truck drivers. The chamber asked the MİT whether the agents who were at the scene at the time of the interception are allowed to testify as witnesses if their identities are kept anonymous. The amended MİT law requires the approval of the prime minister for the interrogation and investigation of MİT agents. In most cases in the past, the government did not allow prosecutors to investigate intelligence agents, even in very controversial circumstances.

The chamber also summoned all witnesses who gave testimonies during the course of the investigation to appear for a trial testimony and cross examination at the High Criminal Courts, or the Court of First Instance if the former is not available in the districts where they are residing. It also asked Cengiz Zeybek, the police chief of Adana province, then-Adana Governor Huseyin Avni Cos, then-Gendarmerie Commander Gen. Servet Yoruk and Adana Gendarmerie Commander Hamza Celepoglu to testify as witnesses in the case.

The Supreme Court of Appeals also asked the General Staff Military Prosecutor’s Office to send the military investigation case file to the chamber for review. The military prosecutors had already cleared the officers of any wrongdoing, saying that they acted on an intelligence tip-off and complied with the search and seizure orders made by public prosecutors at the time.

The chamber ruled for joining the similar cases already ongoing at the Adana 7th High Criminal Court and Ceyhan High Criminal Court with the one at the Supreme Court of Appeals. Apart from the four prosecutors, 34 soldiers, including a major, are being tried in these cases, all of whom have been kept in pre-trial detention.

On Jan. 1, 2014, an anonymous tip-off led to the searching of a number of trucks in Hatay province suspected of smuggling weapons. It was later discovered that the vehicles, filled with weapons, belonged to the MİT. Another anonymous tip-off led to the search of three additional trucks also found to be transporting weapons in Adana on Jan. 19, 2014. The arms were allegedly intended for extremist groups in Syria.

The official records, unveiled by the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) last year, revealed that the cargo was full of heavy armaments, including mortar shells. Last year, military prosecutors decided to drop the charges against the gendarmes, saying that they fulfilled their tasks under the law and complied with the prosecutors’ search and seizure orders.

Leaked military documents revealed that then-Prime Minister and current President Recep Tayyip Erdogan personally authorized the transport of arms in the three trucks. According to one document, Cos rushed to the scene when prosecutor Aziz Takcı ordered gendarmerie units to search and seize the three trucks, which were full of arms and ammunition.

The contents of the cargo, listed by the military officers who searched the trucks, included heavy weaponry such as mortars and metal casings, according to leaked documents.

The list included some two dozen mortars measuring two meters in length and 15 centimeters in diameter, metal mortar casings in smaller sizes, around 10 to 15 wooden boxes each containing 24 units of weaponry mechanisms that fire explosive projectiles, around 30 boxes of 60-millimeter mortar shells and five or six bags of anti-aircraft ammunition.

The military documents corroborated an account given by the suspended prosecutors who ordered the search and seizure of the trucks. A report drafted by Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK) investigators last year revealed that then-Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag and his undersecretary both directly intervened in a judicial investigation, in violation of strict rules prohibiting government officials from influencing ongoing investigations.

The government is worried that the leaking of confidential documents and the testimony of military officers in the investigation will damage Turkey’s international reputation. It may very well create headaches for the government — already under growing criticism for allegedly allowing arms and fighters to enter Syria — if the case file and documents make their way to international organizations such as the UN and the International Criminal Court.

Over the weekend, two generals and a retired colonel were arrested on charges of espionage and terrorism for their role in the interception of trucks carrying arms to Syria. Ankara Gendarmerie Regional Commander Maj. Gen. İbrahim Aydın, former Adana Gendarmerie Regional Commander Brig. Gen. Hamza Celepoglu and former Gendarmerie Criminal Laboratory head retired Col. Burhanettin Cihangiroglu were detained last Saturday and were referred to an İstanbul court for arrest on Sunday. The İstanbul Second Criminal Court of Peace ruled for the arrest pending trial of Aydın, Celepoglu and Cihangiroglu shortly after midnight on Monday.

Regarding the search of trucks on Jan. 1 and Jan. 14 last year, President Erdogan, who was prime minister when the search of the trucks became public, said during an interview on a TV program at the time that they were carrying aid to Turkmens in Syria. He was particularly angry with the prosecutor for having demanded that the search of the trucks be recorded on video and described the search as “treason.”

Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, who was foreign minister at the time, asserted that the cargo was humanitarian aid destined for embattled Syrian Turkmens on the other side of the Turkish border. However, Syrian Turkmen Assembly Vice Chairman Hussein al-Abdullah said in January 2014 that no trucks carrying aid had arrived from Turkey.

On Nov. 24, Erdogan seemingly validated the claims that the Turkish government was sending weapon-filled trucks to radical groups in Syria by sarcastically asking, “So what if the MİT trucks were filled with weapons?”

Two journalists from the Cumhuriyet daily — Editor-in-Chief Can Dundar and Ankara representative Erdem Gul — were arrested last week on similar charges after publishing footage showing that the trucks were carrying guns, contrary to earlier government claims that they were transporting humanitarian aid.

Erdogan publicly vowed that Dundar would “pay a heavy price” for his reporting. He then personally sued Dundar and is demanding a sentence of life imprisonment, an aggravated life sentence and an additional 42-year term of imprisonment on charges of a variety of crimes ranging from espionage to attempting to topple the government and exposing secret information.

According to a report on the online news portal Al-Jazeera Turk, the two generals were arrested based on the testimony of an anonymous witness given the pseudonym Alparsan, who is also a witness in the case of the Iran-backed spy ring Tawhid Salam.