The first investigation related to the covert allowance in our political history took place during the trials conducted after the fall of the Ittihat ve Terakki (Committee of Union and Progress) government.
In the Republican era, the trial related to the covert allowance was held during the Yassıada trials following the May 27th coup, and all the details of where the then-called “Low Prime Minister” Menderes had used the covert allowance were revealed.
During the Ottoman era, a treasury called “ceyb-i hümayun” was established for the personal income and expenses of the sultan, which was under his personal control. This treasury was mostly known as the sultan’s personal treasury, and in the republican era, expenses under the name “covert allowance” were made from here.
Later, the term “hafiye ödeneği” (spy allowance) was used for the covert allowance, but during the Second Constitutional Era, the undesirable concept of “espionage” was eliminated, and it was called “tahsisat-ı mesture.” This practice continued in the republican era, with the first regulation made in 1927. In 1944, with the amendment accepted, it was transformed into “established to cover certain expenses that cannot be disclosed due to the security of the State, internal or international political interests of the State.”
Since the covert allowance is not explicitly shown in budgets like other expense items, it is very difficult to determine whether it is used for its intended purpose. In our history, the first inquiry related to the covert allowance was conducted during the Armistice Period, with the approval of Sultan Vahdettin, by the Government of Sadrazam Tevfik Pasha, in order to investigate allegations of corruption related to the Unionists. The purpose of the commission was to identify the abuses during the period when Enver Pasha served as Deputy Commander-in-Chief and Minister of War.
The commission particularly focused on covert allowance expenses, and its work was supported by the anti-Unionist press, calling it a “den of plunder.” With the money transferred from the covert allowance, Yeni Mecmua, owned by Talat Bey (Küçük Talat-Muşkara), and featuring prominent writers of the time such as Ömer Seyfettin, Fuat Köprülü, Yahya Kemal, Refik Halid, Ağaoğlu Ahmet, and Ahmet Refik, began to be published, and support continued afterward.
Among the writers supported by the covert allowance were Ahmet Rasim and the newspaper Tercüman-ı Hakikat, as well as Artin Efendi, the owner of the Armenian-language newspaper Hayrenak.
Some printing houses were directly supported, including Hilal, Tanin, and Ahmet İhsan Bey printing houses. Other writers who received money from the covert allowance included Kazım Nami, Hamdullah Suphi, Celal Nuri, “Turkish poet Mehmet Emin Bey,” and Abdülhak Hamit, who was considered the “greatest poet.” Abdülhak Hamit was at the top of the list of those who received the most money, followed by Mehmet Emin Bey.
The Covert Allowance Trial
The issue of the covert allowance came to the forefront years later during the Yassıada trials following the May 27th coup. For this reason, former Prime Minister Adnan Menderes was tried for covert allowance expenses during the period from May 14, 1950, to May 27, 1960.
The records of the High Council of Justice numbered 1960/21 consisted of three hundred and ten pages and were titled “Trial of the Offense of Embezzlement by Using the Prime Ministry’s Covert Allowance for Special Needs and Misuse of Duty by Spending for Purposes Not Specified by the Law.”
The hearings, with Salim Başol as the judge and Ömer Altay Egesel as the prosecutor, lasted from November 25, 1960, to February 2, 1961. Alongside Menderes, Ahmet Salih Korur, the Undersecretary of the Prime Ministry responsible for the covert allowance, was also tried.
The prosecution claimed that the covert allowance was used for purposes other than its intended purpose and that there was misuse. Among the allegations were that money from the covert allowance was used for Menderes’s personal expenses, his family, his residence, the presidency, the Grand National Assembly of Turkey (TBMM), and the State Intelligence Service (MAH) during his tenure. Cafer Tayyar Sadıklar, who would later become the head of the Central Bank and a minister, served as an expert witness in the trial and was given the right to speak on many issues.
According to the prepared decree and indictment, Menderes was accused of embezzling a portion of the covert allowance for his personal and family expenses and using another portion of it outside the scope of the law’s purpose. Korur was similarly accused of using a portion of the covert allowance for his personal and family expenses, not disclosing certain expenses, and making payments outside the scope of the law (BCA; 160-489-1, 1960/21).
At the beginning of the trial, Korur stated that Menderes had appointed him responsible for managing the covert allowance and withdrawing the money deposited in İş Bank. Menderes was primarily tried for his personal expenses at his home. He explained that when he became Prime Minister, he initially lived in his own house but expanded it when it became insufficient, and expenses were made under the name of residence expenses from the covert allowance.
One of the issues Menderes was questioned about was the payments made for his stay at Park Otel in Istanbul. Other expenditure items included the school fees, travel expenses, and payments to his wife Berin Hanım, as well as property tax for the houses owned by the Menderes family. Berin Hanım, who was questioned as a witness, stated that she did not know that the payments were made from the covert allowance.
Menderes also claimed that he did not know that these expenses were made from the covert allowance, as they were normally paid from his own account, and the practice was “beyond his instructions and knowledge.” Menderes’s lawyer, Burhan Apaydın, wrote in his memoirs that Korur’s decision to keep the money from the Menderes family’s farm in the covert allowance made these expenses appear to have been made from the covert allowance as if by a “trick” by the May 27th coup plotters.
Menderes’s other defense was that, despite the provision in the law, the practice of spending money in other areas had become a tradition. Indeed, during the Democratic Party’s rule, payments were made from there for the party’s activities. For example, money was allocated for the purchase of a jeep for the DP organization in Eskişehir, and hotel and taxi expenses for some DP members were paid.
Additionally, contributions were made to cover the hospital expenses of the Speaker of the Parliament, Refik Koraltan, and twice, gambling debts were paid for Numan Menemencioğlu, the Ambassador of Paris, “to protect the dignity of the state.” Menemencioğlu was elected as an Istanbul deputy from the DP in 1957.
Another place where expenses were made from the covert allowance was the Presidential Palace, and Bayar described it as a “long-standing tradition.” Menderes also stated that due to the inadequate budget of the presidency, a decision was made to make payments in this way, and payments were made.
It is also observed that Undersecretary Salih Korur’s daughter received payments from the covert allowance. In addition, various payments were made from the covert allowance to Kemal Aygün, who served as the Istanbul Chief of Police, the Governor of Ankara, and the General Director of Security during the DP era, for various reasons, including expenses related to the activities to be carried out together with MAH against the Secret Communist Party, as well as personal expenses such as rent for houses.
One of the expenditures questioned during this trial was the payments made to newspapers, journalists, and writers. The name of Necip Fazıl in particular came up several times. When Judge Başol asked whether the payment of 147,500 liras to Kısakürek, the editor of Zafer, known as the mouthpiece of the DP, was excessive, Menderes explained that it was a spread-out payment over time.
Additionally, Necip Fazıl received money from Ahmet Emin Yalman, as was stated earlier, during the time when he was in prison following the assassination of Ahmet Emin Yalman by Kemal Aygün. Aygün, who was the Governor of Ankara at the time, also stated that he delivered the money given to Kısakürek by Korur, who continuously wrote letters to Prime Minister Menderes, asking for money because he was in difficulty when he was in Ankara, and that he “sent it from Ankara.”
Necip Fazıl was also heard as a witness in Yassıada, and he made statements regarding the money he received from the covert allowance. When asked, “What is your occupation?” in court, Kısakürek responded, “I do nothing.” When Judge Başol asked, “You have been given tremendous assistance,” Kısakürek said that he received money.
Kısakürek, who had prepared his defense in advance, explained his reasons with his exemplary eloquence. According to him, this money was taken “for the protection of an ideal that was pounded from stone to stone, dragged from dungeon to dungeon, an ideal that was sacred, nationalist, Anatolian, and moral.” He also explained when and for what purposes the payments were made. Tevfik İleri also stated that he facilitated the payment of some of this money.
Among those heard as witnesses in the trial, there was also Neslihan Kısakürek, the wife of Necip Fazıl. She stated that she received money from Menderes when her husband was in prison in 1957, but she did not know that it was from the covert allowance.
Menderes argued that this practice had become a tradition, and many newspapers, journalists, and writers were supported. Among those who received money from the covert allowance were Burhan Belge, the chief editor of Zafer, known as the mouthpiece of the Democratic Party, Mithat Perin, the owner of the Istanbul Ekspres newspaper, which played a prominent role in the events of September 6-7, Yusuf Ziya Ortaç, Orhan Seyfi Orhon, and Kazım Nami Duru.
Peyami Safa also received money for the magazine “Türk Düşüncesi.” In court, Safa would say that the magazine was “aimed at the educated class and was for the benefit of the country.” It is also seen that money was given for distribution to local media.
Is There Arbitrariness?
In the Covert Allowance Trial held on Yassıada, all of Menderes’s expenses were examined, and issues that even he could not have been aware of were revealed. In court, Menderes would say, “I am not afraid of execution… But what I fear most is being remembered in history as a ‘thieving prime minister.'”
In the early years of the AKP government, Selçuk Parsadan managed to receive money from the covert allowance on behalf of the “Kemalistler Derneği” (Association of Kemalists) with the approval of then-Prime Minister Tansu Çiller on December 10, 2003. This stands as a bad example. During his prime ministership, Erdoğan, who set records with covert allowance expenses, is expected to have shattered all-time records with the presidential government system. However, it may never be possible for us to learn the details of these expenses.
References: High Court of Justice Records (1960/21); Özdurgun, Y (2020), “Covert Allowance Trial on Yassıada: Expenditures Made to Press and Official Institutions”, Near East Turkey Studies, Issue 40, pp. 251-278; Reflections of Allegations of Financial Corruption Regarding the Democratic Party Government on Yassıada Trials and Politics of the Period (2022), PhD Thesis, YYU Graduate School of Social Sciences, Van; Çoruk, A. Ş (2018), “Covert Allowance Expenditures on Press and Literature by the Committee of Union and Progress During the First World War”, Turkish Language and Literature Journal, Vol. 58, No. 1, pp. 75-97.