Trial over murder of Turkish far-right leader stirs political tension

By Huseyin Hayatsever

ANKARA (Reuters) - A trial over the murder of a former Turkish far-right group leader opened on Monday with some of the 22 defendants saying the killing - which has stirred political tension - stemmed from a personal dispute over money.

Sinan Ates, an academic who led the ultra-nationalist youth organisation Idealist Hearths - known as the "Grey Wolves" - from 2019-2020, was shot dead in an Ankara street in December 2022. His family says the killing was politically motivated.

The "Grey Wolves" is the youth branch of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), which for six years has been in an alliance with President Tayyip Erdogan's ruling AK Party, but the case has caused strains in their pact.

MHP deputy leader Semih Yalcin has said the case was being used by leftist media to incriminate his party without evidence, denying the involvement of MHP officials.

Erdogan hosted the victim's widow Ayse Ates at the presidential palace last month and the justice minister said at the time that Erdogan was committed to ensuring justice and that "nothing will remain in the dark".


The youth group, established in the 1960s, was involved in political violence between leftists and nationalists that killed some 5,000 people around the time of a 1980 coup.

Highlighting tensions over the case, more than 100 police officers were in the courtroom on Monday and Ayse Ates arrived there in a bullet-proof vest which she removed at the door, Turkish media reported.

All of the defendants who spoke in court on Monday said the shooting was the result of a personal dispute over money between one of the defendants and Ates.

Lawyers for the victim's family say the man behind the shooting had ordered Ates killed, but the alleged hit man Eray Ozyagci told the court he was instructed to shoot Ates in the feet.

During an interval in the hearing, Ayse Ates said on social media platform X that the defendants' statements and similar recent comments on the case by MHP officials were at odds with evidence and part of a "theatre of conspiracy".

She sat in the courtroom with the main opposition CHP party leader Ozgur Ozel, among several prominent political figures at the hearing in Sincan, outside of Ankara.

Among the defendants is a former official from the "Grey Wolves" and a lawyer who is an MHP member.

(Reporting by Huseyin Hayatsever; Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by Jonathan Spicer and Helen Popper)