The Turkish embassy in Canberra and other consulates may have reported back to Ankara on expatriates who have lived in Australia “for a long time” and are suspected of opposing President Tayyip Erdogan, documents released by an Austrian politician appear to show.
The papers made public on Friday by opposition Greens politician Peter Pilz suggested a wider intelligence network across four continents, including Australia, than has so far been revealed by authorities investigating alleged spying by Turkey on its expatriates in three European countries.
German, Austrian and Swiss authorities have all launched investigations into whether Turkey is conducting illegal espionage on their soil.
Among the documents released by Pilz is a September 20 note, using the letterheads of the prime minister’s office and the state religious authority Diyanet, calling for information on supporters of Erdogan’s arch-enemy Fethullah Gulen.
The documents, which Pilz received from a Turkish source, show embassies in over 30 countries across Europe, Africa, Australia and Asia sent reports to Diyanet on alleged Gulenists. Most were filed by religious attaches in Turkish embassies or consulates.
An Australian report refers to “people who have lived in Australia for a long time and who know (the Gulenist) structure very well”.
Turkey accuses Gulen of masterminding a failed coup attempt last July and has purged state institutions, schools, universities and the media of tens of thousands of suspected Gulen supporters. The cleric denies any involvement.
Pliz’s documents typically list the names and addresses of alleged Gulenists, as well as of publishing houses, media groups, educational centres and schools deemed to support the exiled cleric.
Some reports include information on family members and the educational background of targeted people.
“There is clearly a global network of informants. We cannot say exactly how long it took to build up this network. I assume that it happened in a matter of years,” Pilz told reporters.
A senior Turkish government official said: “These claims are completely false.”
Countries routinely post intelligence officers in their embassies, and the European authorities have not said in what ways the alleged Turkish activity went beyond acceptable levels of information-gathering by a foreign power.
Reuters could not immediately verify the authenticity of the documents, but a source close to Austria’s government said it was safe to assume the ones on Austria were genuine
Turkey has rejected previous accusations that it uses religious bodies in Europe to spy on Erdogan critics.