Islamic charity bosses jailed for fraud

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The head of the German section of Deniz Feneri was sentences to almost six years.

Frankfurt -- The chiefs of an Islamic charity were sent to prison in Germany Wednesday after they admitted siphoning millions of euros away from alms donated by devout Muslims for the poor.

The 45-year-old founder and head of the German section of Deniz Feneri was jailed for 69 months for embezzlement, while his successor, 40, in the post was given 33 months by the Frankfurt state court.

The trial shook Turkey, with opponents of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan claiming that his AKP party obtained funds from the men. But German prosecutors said this week they had seen no evidence to support that.

Erdogan categorically denied donations to his Justice and Development Party.

Turkish official a suspect

Still, as the trial ended, German prosecutors disclosed that a senior government official in Turkey, Aykut Zahid Akman, who used to live in Germany, had also been a suspect but could not be arrested.

Akman, who chairs the Radio and Television Council that regulates Turkish broadcasting, had received some of the funds embezzled from the Deniz Feneri charity, a Frankfurt prosecutor said.

He is also under investigation in Germany over his role as chairman of a Frankfurt area building society.

He is suspected of fraudulently claiming government housing subsidies and failing to declare the society insolvent in due time, prosecutions spokeswoman Doris Moeller-Scheu said.

The news website Spiegel Online said Akman's lawyer rejected the claim.

Siphoned off

The alms were meant for poverty-stricken Palestinians, Turkish slum-dwellers and refugees in Pakistan, but only a part was given to the poor. The defendants kept a portion to invest in Turkish real estate.

The former accountant, 44, of the Deniz Feneri Foundation had his 22-month jail term suspended. The trial had been expected to last much longer but came to a quick end after a plea agreement was reached.

The charity raised foreign relief funds among well-off Turkish communities in Germany and the Netherlands through a Deniz Feneri television program. The title means lighthouse.

The trio admitted taking €18.6 million ($30 million) in cash from the bank accounts of the German branch of Deniz Feneri.

Advertisements on the Internet, in the press and on a Dutch-based television channel Euro 7 used images of human suffering in Turkey, Pakistan and other nations.

Police established that donations in Germany to Deniz Feneri from early 2002 until the end of April 2007, when an inquiry into the charity became public, had totaled €41 million. About 20,000 donors were tricked.

The trio were accused of 200 counts of embezzlement.


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