Turkish government hires UK law firm to probe cleric's global network

ISTANBUL (Reuters) - The Turkish government has hired an international law firm to investigate the worldwide activities of U.S.-based Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen’s Hizmet (Service) Movement, President Tayyip Erdogan’s ally-turned-arch rival.

Islamic preacher Fethullah Gulen is pictured at his residence in Saylorsburg, Pennsylvania September 24, 2013. REUTERS/Selahattin Sevi/Zaman Daily via Cihan News Agency

Robert Amsterdam, founding partner of London-based Amsterdam and Partners LLP said in a statement that his firm was hired by the Turkish government “to expose allegedly unlawful conduct by the Gulen network worldwide”.

“We’re going to look into their activities throughout the United States, Africa and other regions where the network is active,” Amsterdam, who held a news conference in Washington to make the announcement, told Reuters by phone.

The investigations would focus on a wide range of issues including the Movement’s use of U.S. visas, educational operations as well as its members’ political activities, Amsterdam said.

Alp Aslandogan, President of New York-based Allied Shared Values, a foundation set up by Gulen sympathizers, dismissed the move as “the last step of a smear campaign”.

These topics had occasionally been looked into by U.S. authorities without producing any convictions against the Movement, he told Reuters by phone.

Turkish officials were not immediately available for comment.

Erdogan has accused Gulen, who has been in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania for the past 15 years, of running a “parallel structure” of supporters in the judiciary, police, media and other institutions who have been operating against him.

A Turkish court last week accepted an indictment accusing Gulen of trying to overthrow the government and put him as the number one suspect among 69 people accused of running a “terrorist group” behind 2013 corruption investigations, targeting Erdogan’s inner circle, which were later thrown out of court.

Gulen denies the charge.

Turkish government has revoked the passport of Gulen and Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said earlier this year that he expected a request to be put to the U.S. authorities for his extradition.

Amsterdam said his firm’s investigations were not aimed at targeting Gulen himself. “To be frank, Mr. Gulen is an elderly man and we are very much focused on the network’s activities,” he said.

Earlier on Monday, shares of Turkish mining firm Koza Altin slid more than 5 percent on Monday after CNN Turk said it had been placed in receivership, although the company said it had received no such information.

The report came a month after police raided Koza Altin’s parent company over links to Gulen. Last month police raided offices of parent company Koza Ipek Holding seeking financial documents.

A court search warrant at that time showed that Koza Altin and group firm Koza Anadolu Metal were being investigated on suspicion of terror financing, terror propaganda and other crimes related to Chairman Hamdi Akin Ipek’s alleged support for Gulen.

Additional reporting by Can Sezer; Editing by Richard Balmforth