The Red Crescent’s latest scandal in Turkey
DENIZ WILSON- Following the earthquakes that struck the country’s southeast, the Red Crescent’s performance is being questioned, as there are many in the disaster-hit region that have yet to be given tents for shelter. Most recently, the revelation that the Red Crescent sold another humanitarian aid organization tents has fueled the public’s anger.
Kerem Kinik, Chairman of the Red Crescent Board, had previously admitted that a company had the Red Crescent as a front for tax evasion. Since many institutions in Turkey are not independent but are either directly or indirectly under the control of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, existing control mechanisms for institutions are nonfunctional. The scandal the Red Crescent has caused amidst the earthquake relief efforts reveals once more the extent of institutional structure and corruption in the country.
The Red Crescent donation scandal
Kerem Kinik’s name is at the heart of the corruption debates dating back to 2020 which have come to the agenda. According to the scandal unearthed in 2020, the company Baskent Gas donated 8 million dollars to the Red Crescent in 2017. According to the protocol signed while donating, 75 thousand dollars of this amount remained with the Red Crescent, while the remaining 7 million 925 thousand dollars was transferred to the Ensar Foundation, an Islamic foundation affiliated with the government. It was claimed that Baskent Gas aimed at tax evasion using these transfers, as donations to charitable institutions are deducted from the tax base in Turkey.
Chairman Kinik confirmed that the Red Crescent is used as a money transfer center. Kinik argued that this was not a violation of the law and held his position on the Board despite being the subject of great criticism on this issue.
Consequently, other donations to the Red Crescent came under scrutiny. After Kerem Kinik was appointed as the Chairman of the Red Crescent Board of Directors in 2016, the change in the amount of donations drew attention. Donations and aid revenues, which were 88.1 million Turkish Liras (TL) in 2013, 74.5 million TL in 2014, 51.5 million TL in 2015 and 1 billion 173 million TL in 2016, suddenly reached 2 billion 261 million TL in 2017 and ballooned to 3 billion 346 million TL in the next year. This led many to believe that the Red Crescent was being used as a front organization.
The tent sale
Two earthquakes of magnitudes 7.7 and 7.6 that hit southeastern Turkey within the same day wreaked havoc in the region. According to official data, after the disaster in which more than 45,000 people lost their lives, the country mobilized to send critical aid supplies to the region. However, criticism has been growing regarding the fact that many people have not been given tents yet even though it has been weeks since the earthquake hit. In this regard, Murat Agirel from Cumhuriyet newspaper revealed that the Red Crescent sold tents, instead of distributing them, to AHBAP, a charitable organization.
The AHBAP Association, founded by rock music artist Haluk Levent, has a network that extends across the country. Especially since individuals or groups in opposition to the government were unwilling to donate to state organizations, AHBAP received a high volume of funds following the disaster. In their statement, AHBAP confirmed that they had purchased tents from the Red Crescent to be sent to the region after the earthquake.
According to the statement, the association could not find a firm that would meet their urgent need for tents, so they applied to the Red Crescent and purchased 2,050 tents from Red Crescent Tents and Textiles Inc., the tent manufacturing company belonging to the Red Crescent, for 46 million TL.
Red Crescent President Kinik also confirmed this sale. In his statement, Kinik claimed that the money would be used for further tent production and said, "AHBAP received donation for this issue. That is, donations were made to meet the need for shelter. They were to use this donation money for a price, maybe if they had imported the tents, they would have had to buy winter tents of the same standard as ours from abroad for twice as much as they paid. But we mobilized the field to reduce the total cost to the donor at a lower cost. It is not as if these tents were set up in another country — they went to places determined by the Disaster and Emergency Management Authority (AFAD) for our earthquake victims. We also quickly bought raw materials with this money and incorporated it into our production. Therefore, this is not a big deal. At the end of the day, it went in service to our citizens.”
Then, it was revealed that the Red Crescent sold not only tents, but also canned goods.
Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the leader of CHP which is the main opposition party, reacted to the sale of tents, and said, "How can the Red Crescent do business over tents in a moment of disaster? I am talking to the Red Crescent officials. If you have any unsold tents in your warehouse, we will pick them up and send them to the earthquake zone! What does it mean that a charity has turned into a business!”
Nationalist opposition leader of the Good Party, Meral Aksener, on the other hand, rebuked the Red Crescent, saying “You have condemned the Turkish Red Crescent which was established on the basis of ‘protecting the dignity of people and society with the power of good, increasing their resilience and relieving their suffering’ to an understanding that abandons people in favor of the power of money and have hollowed it out with endless fraudulence.”
The Union of Turkish Bar Associations (TBB) has announced that they have filed a criminal complaint against the Red Crescent officials with the Office of the Chief Public Prosecutor on the grounds of “abuse of trust.”
A profile of Turkey: Kerem Kinik
Alongside the scandals, Kerem Kinik is also known for the public benefits he provides to himself and his family. It was recently revealed to the public that Kerem Kinik’s 30-year-old son, Muhammed Furkan Kinik, was the deputy chairman of the Red Crescent Youth. Muhammed Furkan Kinik is the only one among the eight vice-presidents who is not the chair of a department. According to the information on his LinkedIn account, Kinik also holds the title of "TRT Digital Platform Channel Coordinator.”
Fatima Zehra Kinik, another child of Kerem Kinik, is also among the Green Crescent staff. She has been working as an “assistant specialist” in the Green Crescent since June 2022.
According to the data obtained from the Public Disclosure Platform (KAP) notifications, the President of the Red Crescent Kerem Kinik was the 'Chairman of the Board' in 12 companies established during his term, and as an executive at these companies, he was given 198,012 TL each month in “per diem” payments, the equivalent of 36 minimum wages.
Despite the scandals, Kerem Kinik continues as Chairman of the Board of the Red Crescent. In Turkey, President Erdogan has a great influence not only on the state but also on non-governmental organizations. This is why no one resigns or can be dismissed unless Erdogan wishes. The example of the Red Crescent and its President has become yet another example of how corrupt institutions in Turkey have become.