Organised crime on the rise in Turkey

Istanbul’s new opposition mayor, Ekrem İmamoğlu, lined up more than 1,000 vehicles hired by the previous ruling party municipality this month to show how public funds had been funnelled to government-linked businesses.

With the spotlight on corruption, commentators on Turkish social media this week turned their gaze to a rise in reported incidents of organised crime, which have nearly quadrupled in the last three years.

organised crime
Turkish General Directorate of Security's 2018 figures on organised crime. Blue: operations. Orange: suspects. Green: arrests.

Figures from the Interior Ministry’s General Directorate of Security’s 2018 report show that the number of people suspected of organised crime rose from 606 in 2016 to 2,209 last year.

Police organised crime operations jumped from 32 in 2016, to 99 the next year, and to 162 in 2018. The number of arrests made also leapt from 207, to 793 over the same period.

There was a lull in the number of organised crime operations in 2016, dropping to 32 that year from 86 in 2015.

This dip coincides with a coup attempt against Turkey’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) government in July 2016. The rise in organised crime statistics came during a two-year state of emergency implemented after the coup.

Thousands of suspected members of the religious group blamed for the coup were purged from state institutions, including the police and judiciary. Meanwhile, the government launched legal action against critics, including journalists, sentencing some on organised crime charges.

But Bahadır Özgür, the journalist at independent daily Gazete Duvar who reported on the statistics this week, said the rise in crime figures corresponded with a general rise in crime and corruption in the country.

The rise in reported crimes is not limited to the politically loaded charge of organised crime, but also includes tax evasion, reported incidents of which have more than doubled to 662 in 2018 from 304 in 2016. Unlike the organised crime reports, the figures do not show a large dip in 2016; just 251 cases were dealt with by police in 2013, and 358 the following year.

tax fraud
Turkish General Directorate of Security's 2018 figures on tax fraud. Yellow: reported incidents. Red: suspects

The May report by the directorate, which administers Turkey’s police force, also showed a large rise in reported incidents of crimes including smuggling and tax evasion over the same time period.

Arms smuggling was on a downward trend until 2016, and then jumped from 870 weapons seized in 105 operations that year to 2,125 weapons seized in 175 operations the next year and 2,029 in 255 operations in 2018.

smuggling cultural property
Turkish General Directorate of Security's 2018 figures on smuggling of cultural property. Yellow: reported incidents. Red: suspects.

Meanwhile, the number of people reported for smuggling cultural property has nearly doubled since the year 2016, jumping to 1,251 in 604 incidents reported in 2018.