ISTANBUL (Reuters) - George Soros’s Open Society Foundation said on Monday it would cease operations in Turkey, days after President Tayyip Erdogan accused the billionaire philanthropist of trying to divide and destroy nations.
The organization said it was no longer possible to work in Turkey after it became the target of “baseless claims” in the media and a renewed investigation by Turkish authorities into mass protests against Erdogan’s government five years ago.
It said the Turkish Interior Ministry was renewing attempts to prove that the Soros foundation was behind the 2013 Gezi Park protests, one of the biggest political challenges to Erdogan’s 15-year rule. The foundation denied any link to the protests.
Erdogan denounced Soros last week while speaking of the detention of 13 activists and academics accused of supporting attempts by jailed businessman and rights advocate Osman Kavala to revive the Gezi protests.
“The person (Kavala) who financed terrorists during the Gezi incidents is already in prison,” Erdogan told a meeting of local administrators on Wednesday.
“And who is behind him? The famous Hungarian Jew Soros. This is a man who assigns people to divide nations and shatter them. He has so much money and he spends it this way.”
One of the 13 people detained on Nov. 16 was Hakin Altinay, who helped establish the Open Society Foundation in Turkey. Others were staff members of Kavala’s Anadolu Kultur center, which campaigns for human rights and cultural diversity.
All but one of the detainees were later released, but not before the European Union and United States expressed concern about their cases.
Ankara’s Western allies have repeatedly criticized the arrest of tens of thousands of people since a failed military coup in Turkey in July 2016.
Kavala, in detention for more than a year, said on Monday in a statement posted on his website that he was still waiting for an indictment to be prepared so that he could prove that the claims he had helped to direct and finance the Gezi protests and wanted to overthrow the government were “unfounded”.
The pro-government Sabah newspaper, citing reports from financial crime investigators, said on Monday the Open Society Foundation had made financial transfers to Kavala’s organization to support the spread of the Gezi protests nationwide.
It said nearly 1.9 million lira had been transferred between August 2011 and April 2017.
The foundation said it informed the Turkish authorities every year about which institutions and projects had received donations, and the authorities had approved them.
“However, with the new investigations that have been opened, it is seen that there is an effort to link the Open Society Foundation to the Gezi incidents in 2013. These efforts are not new and they are outside reality,” it said.
The foundation said it would apply for the legal liquidation and winding up of the company’s operations as soon as possible.
“The increase of baseless claims and disproportionate speculation in the media in recent days has made it impossible for the foundation to continue its operations.”
Soros, a U.S.-based financier and philanthropist, and his Open Society Foundation have also come under fire in Hungary. Prime Minister Viktor Orban accuses Soros and the liberal causes he backs of trying to undermine Europe’s Christian culture by promoting mass migration, a charge the financier denies.
Reporting by Gulsen Solaker, Ali Kucukgocmen and Ece Toksabay; Editing by Dominic Evans and Gareth Jones