Prosecutors begin charging Erdogan allies in graft scandal

December 21, 2013 - 5:50:04 am
ISTANBUL: Istanbul prosecutors yesterday began charging some of the prime minister’s closest allies in a huge graft scandal he has responded to with a spectacular purge of police.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said he was battling “a state within a state” and described the corruption probe, which comes ahead of crucial March polls, as a smear operation.

The crisis erupted on Tuesday when police detained sons of three ministers as part of a sweeping investigation, one of the most brazen challenges to Erdogan’s 10-year rule.

Eighty-nine people, including several Erdogan allies, were detained in dawn raids, sparking a crisis which rattled the stock market and sent the lira to an all-time low.

Media reports said prosecutors had begun handing out corruption indictments, with the first eight arrested and placed in pre-trial detention.

They are suspected of offences, including accepting and facilitating bribes for development projects and securing construction permits for protected areas.

The remaining detainees were appearing in court after being interrogated by police. 

The Hurriyet daily said 15 had been released although there was no official confirmation.

Since the scandal broke out, Erdogan has sacked dozens of police officials, including the Istanbul police chief, for cooperating with the investigation without permission.

The media said another 17 were fired yesterday, amid a widening purge of the police command.

Erdogan’s critics accuse him of trying to protect his cronies and the appointment of Selami Altinok, a little-known governor with no police career, was seen as an attempt to shut down the investigation.

Altinok raised eyebrows when he landed in Istanbul on Thursday in the premier’s private jet.

Kemal Kilicdaroglu, leader of main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), called Erdogan a “dictator”.

“In this country, everything is controlled by what comes out of a dictator’s mouth... They want to drag the country into the darkness of 19th century,” he said.

“Turkey needs clean politics and a clean society.”

Most observers have interpreted the raids as a result of tensions between Erdogan’s government and Fethullah Gulen, a Muslim cleric who wields considerable political and economic clout.

Gulen, who lives in self-imposed exiled in Pennsylvania, had an increasingly public feud with Erdogan and his allies in the moderately Islamist ruling AKP party.

The probe has also exposed bitter fault lines in Erdogan’s traditional power base and prompted calls from his own party and the opposition for the resignation of the government.

“No one has the right to intervene in the judicial process,” wrote former culture minister Ertugrul Gunay on Twitter.

The European Union, which Turkey aspires to join, urged authorities to investigate graft allegations in an “impartial manner”. EU Affairs Minister Egemen Bagis branded the probe a “disgusting conspiracy”. 

Among the suspects detained are sons of Interior Minister Muammer Guler, Economy Minister Zafer Caglayan and Environment Minister Erdogan Bayraktar along with the chief executive of state-owned Halkbank, Suleyman Aslan, and construction tycoon Ali Agaoglu.

The influential Turkish Industrialists’ and Businessmen’s Association (TUSIAD) voiced concern over the investigation that continues to weigh on the economy.

“Allegations of bribery and corruption are very worrisome. We hope that the case is solved within the framework of legal principles without harming anyone’s personal rights,” TUSIAD said.

In trading yesterday, the lira was at 2.094 against the dollar compared to 2.071 on Thursday. 

AFP
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