Republic of Turkey Targets Houston-Based Charter School
Lawyers working forthe Turkish government plan to file a complaint with the Texas Education Agency next week against Houston-based Harmony Public Schools, alleging financial malfeasance and other misconduct, school officials said.
The Republic of Turkey, where President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is waging a well-documented war against critics, hiredLondon-based Amsterdam & Partners last fall “to conduct a global investigation into the activities of the organization led by moderate Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen,” according to the firm's website. Gulen is a reclusive Turkish expatriate living in Pennsylvania whom news reports have linked to Harmony and other U.S. charter schools. Harmony, which focuses on science and math education, is the second-largest charter network in the United States and the largest in Texas. It operates 46 schools here where nearly 31,000 students are enrolled.
Amsterdam filed a civil lawsuit against Gulen in December in U.S. district court accusing him of being a terrorist and building a "parallel structure" within the police and judiciary to topple the government, according to a Reuters report. In March, Turkish authorities issuedan arrest warrant for Gulen and his brother.
Harmony officials have vehemently denied any connection to Gulen and say the complaint, which they learned about by accident, is a politically motivated attack by Erdogan following a June 2015 election in which his party lost its 13-year majority control.
The Justice and Development Party (AKP) regained its hold on parliament in a subsequent vote, but Harmony officials note that Erdogan’s party received littlesupport in the summer election among Turkish Americans who voted absentee.
“It’s a witch hunt,” said Soner Tarim, Harmony’s CEO.
An Amsterdam & Associates lawyer, John Martin, on Thursday confirmed the firm's plans to file a complaint with the state against Harmony but declined to immediately offer further details. The firm has enlisted the help of longtime Austin lobbyist and Republican political consultant Jim Arnold, who registered as an agent for the Turkish government last month. Arnold did not respond to calls or an email requesting comment.