A hard-hitting investigative report by Bloomberg has targeted an unsubstantiated conspiracy link forged by Turkish prosecutors between jailed US pastor Andrew Brunson and Mormon missionaries.
The alleged complicity between Brunson and an American Mormon neighbour living near to each other in the Alsancak district of Izmir features prominently in the testimony of one Turkish secret witness in the trial. Both suspects are accused in Brunson’s official indictment of involvement in a terrorist plot to destabilise Turkey.
The link between the two US citizens was, according to Bloomberg research, based solely on “cellphone tower records showing that, on the days the planning allegedly occurred, the two men’s phones were in Alsancak.”
“Given that both men lived there,” the article observed, “that would have been true most days of the year.”
But Kenneth Abney, 71, a retired US special forces major and missionary of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS) now living in the US, told Bloomberg he had never met or even heard of Brunson until the pastor’s 2016 arrest.
The LDS missionary identified the Turkish witness, code-named Dua in the indictment, as “most certainly” a former Mormon member, confirming that some of the alleged evidence he handed over to prosecutors had come from Abney’s own computer. The machine had been taken for repair by an interpreter, who Abney said was later expelled by the church for allegedly embezzling $10,000.
The Bloomberg article refutes Dua’s claims that Mormons constitute 40 per cent of US military stationed overseas. According to US Department of Defense statistics, only 18,000 (1.3 per cent) of America’s 1.4 million active-duty personnel serving overseas were Mormons in 2009, when Abney and his wife arrived in Izmir.
The retired Abney said he had left Turkey before the last of three meetings when Dua claimed the Mormon had met with Brunson regarding a list of gas stations. Prosecutors claimed their meeting was “entirely an act of espionage” to identify logistic centres for a future occupation force against Turkey.
In fact, a British data collection company in the UK confirmed to Bloomberg that it had hired an LDS interpreter to survey gas stations across Turkey, as a worldwide procedure the company follows in order to sell the data to energy companies.
The article went on to state that many of Dua’s “spectacular claims” about Mormon activities have not been challenged during the court trial, simply because Brunson’s legal team is focused on proving the pastor had nothing to do with his alleged co-conspirators.
Brunson’s defence lawyer Ismail Cem Halavurt told Bloomberg that his client’s internationally publicised case won’t be over if Brunson is released. “There are so many accusations,” he said. “I think they will start an operation against the other religious groups.”
Erdogan insists on judiciary decision
Although US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo reiterated at the outset of this week’s UN General Assembly sessions in New York that Brunson could and should be released soon by Turkey, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan insisted in a Reuters interview on 25 September that any decision on the pastor would be made by the court.
“This is a judiciary matter. Brunson has been detained on terrorism charges … On October 12 there will be another hearing, and we don’t know what the court will decide, and politicians will have no say on the verdict.
“As the president, I don’t have the right to order his release. Our judiciary is independent. Let’s wait and see what the court will decide.”
Sozcu journalist Rahmi Turan responded bluntly to the president’s comment in his front-page “Tokmak” column on 27 September, quoting the 74th article of Executive Order 694, which legalises the return of a foreign prisoner to his own country “upon the request of the Foreign Minister, with the recommendation of the Justice Minister and approval of the President”.