The mystery man behind Turkey's coup investigation

By bne IntelliNews January 22, 2009

Nicholas Birch in Istanbul -

Turkey doesn't have much of a tradition of detective novels. It has people like Tuncay Guney instead.

A former journalist who fled Turkey in 2001 after being arrested for petty fraud and is now seeking asylum in Canada, Guney has kept Turks on the edge of their seats for over a year with mind-boggling allegations about a plot to overthrow Turkey's government. Interviewed by state television on January 14, Guney named seven generals he said headed putsch plans and accused the leader of Turkey's secularist opposition party of being an agent.

"They say every village has a resident madman," said Nesrin Baytok, one of 30 secularist deputies who marched to the Ankara headquarters of the television to protest Guney's latest television appearance. "For the first time, it looks as if Turkey has a resident madman too."

18 months into a criminal investigation triggered by the discovery of an arms cache in an Istanbul suburb, Baytok's angry dismissiveness is shared by a sizeable minority of Turks. For them, the ongoing trial of 86 suspects - including prominent civilians and retired military officers - accused of "attempting to overthrow the government by force" is a farcical effort by the country's Islamic-rooted government to undermine its secularist rivals. But there was nothing farcical about the grenades, guns and explosives police found buried in Ankara on January 10, nor about the identities of 14 men detained in connection with the plot since then.

The broadening out of investigations into the gang that Turks calls Ergenekon has deepened question marks surrounding Tuncay Guney. Is this man who first told police about Ergenekon after he was arrested in 2001 a whistleblower so knowledgeable that Watergate's Deep Throat looks like child's play beside him? Or is he the biggest teller of tall tales since Scheherazade?


The 36-year-old Guney's own explanation of the secret documents police found in his flat in 2001 is simple. In a lengthy email, he describes himself as a "taboo-breaking" investigative journalist who won the hearts of informants with his "sincerity."

However, a journalist specialising in intelligence issues, Avni Ozgurel, thinks he was a pawn in an undercover war between military police and national intelligence: "He was a pool that everybody was throwing their rubbish into." Chief editor of the centrist daily Milliyet, Sedat Ergin, agrees that Guney is the sort of man intelligence services would fall over themselves to employ. "He had this astonishing ability to penetrate any network," he says.

Former acquaintances of Guney - who describes himself as "a manic collector of people" - suspect his strongest card may have been his apparent harmlessness. "I think people let him into their lives because they felt sorry for him," says one journalist who met him in 1994. "He always appeared a poor, weak character."

In the early days of the Ergenekon investigation, Guney appeared delighted with his new notoriety. Now, amid increasing talk of extraditing him back to Turkey to give evidence in court, his sense of being untouchable appears to be slipping away. "If only I hadn't become a journalist", he writes in his email. "It got me into trouble. I got caught in a power struggle. Only shahs can predict when the moves will be made. I cannot, and I am afraid."

An investigative journalist who has been following the Ergenekon case closely, Belma Akcura thinks Guney is out of his depth. "Reading his police statements, you get the sense he didn't even understand the import of what he was overhearing", she says. "He's a bone the big men have thrown to the media dogs."

Editor of the Toronto-based Turkish newspaper Canada Turk, Hasan Yilmaz, expresses a sentiment shared by many in Turkey. "Tuncay Guney is a man with a thousand faces. Only God knows which is the real one."

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The mystery man behind Turkey's coup investigation

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