Turkey tells U.S. courts Gülen schools funding subversive operations

A law firm hired by Turkey has petitioned U.S. federal district courts for documents on charter schools in Ohio and Illinois, including personal information on their employees, payments to vendors, and communications about school nutrition programmes, Bloomberg reported on Wednesday.

The law firm Nixon Peabody LLP has targeted nine science-focused schools in Ohio, and another one in Chicago, Illinois, run by Concept Schools.

Turkey is accusing the schools of fraudulently using public funds in the United States to fund the activities of Pennsylvania-based Muslim preacher Fethullah Gülen, who Ankara accuses of orchestrating a failed military coup on July 15, 2016 along with his followers.

If the petition succeeds, the documents will be used in criminal proceedings against the group in Turkey, Bloomberg said.

Turkish authorities have bypassed established procedure known as a Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (MLAT), where they would file a request with the U.S. Justice Department instead of directly with courts to gather facts on behalf of Turkey. One prosecutor called the process “cumbersome,” according to Bloomberg.

A representative for the school network has denied any affiliation with Gülen or his followers, and said in a statement that there was “a concerted effort by foreign actors” to discredit the schools and tarnish their reputations, for “politically motivated foreign policy reasons”, Bloomberg reported.

Another law firm that Turkey hired, Amsterdam & Partners LLP, issued a report allegedly linking Concept to Gülen schools in other countries, and its board members to NGOs affiliated with Gülen. Turkey alleges that the schools have rigged bids for renovation contracts and school services, as well as engaged in visa fraud to relocate followers of the preacher to the United States.

Horizon Schools, which run nine of the schools in question, said in a court filing that Turkey had transferred its “political vendetta” against U.S. citizens of Turkish descent, and denied any connection to Gülen, Bloomberg said.

Schools allegedly connected to Gülen have been subject to scrutiny before, notably in 2017 before U.S. President Donald Trump met with his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdoğan for the first time after taking office. At the time, the U.S. Department of Education looked into whether the schools could be considered to have religious affiliation or be involved in money laundering, but rejected both, according to a Bloomberg report at the time.