Three chiefs of a German branch of an Islamic charity have been jailed after admitting they had siphoned millions of euros away from donations given by devout Muslims for the poor.
A Frankfurt judged called the case the worst case of donation misuse he ever encountered
The 45-year-old founder and head of the German section of Deniz Feneri, which translates to "lighthouse," was jailed on Wednesday, Sept. 17, for five years and nine months for embezzlement,
His successor in the post was given two years and nine months by the Frankfurt state court. The foundation's former accountant received a suspended jail term of twenty-two months.
Presiding judge Jochen Mueller described the case as "the worst example of the misuse of donations that I’ve ever encountered."
The trial has rocked Turkey, with opponents of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan claiming that his Justice and Development Party (AKP) received funds from the men. Following the verdict several Turkish newspapers claimed the ringleaders of the scandal were to be found in Turkey.
German prosecutors, however, said they had seen no evidence that embezzled money reached Erdogan. Erdogan has also categorically denied that donations to his AKP Party had been obtained by irregular means.
Thousands of donors tricked by fraudsters
The donations were meant for poverty-stricken Palestinians, Turkish slum-dwellers and refugees in Pakistan, but only a portion of money collected actually went to the poor. The court found that the defendants kept a portion to invest in Turkish real estate.
Erdogan said he knows nothing about the embezzled money
The trial in Frankfurt had been expected to last much longer, but came to a quick end with a plea bargain.
The trio was accused of 200 specimen counts of embezzlement and admitted taking 18.6 million euros ($30 million) in cash from the bank accounts of the German branch of Deniz Feneri.
Donations were sought through advertisements on the Internet, in the press and on a Dutch-based television channel which used images of human suffering in Turkey, Pakistan and other nations.
Police established that donations in Germany to Deniz Feneri had totaled 41 million euros from early 2002 until the end of April 2007, when an inquiry into the charity became public. Some 20,000 donors were tricked.