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Evidence scandal erupts in Turkey's Ergenekon case

ISTANBUL - Daily News with wires | 1/27/2011 12:00:00 AM |

The Interior Ministry assigned two inspectors Thursday to investigate claims that evidence was falsified against a suspect in the ongoing Ergenekon case.

The Interior Ministry assigned two inspectors Thursday to investigate claims that evidence was falsified against a suspect in the ongoing Ergenekon case, the Anatolia news agency reported.

“We are following [the issue] both administratively and judicially. We place importance on the conclusion. If there is someone who did wrong, he will be punished,” Interior Minister Beşir Atalay said in the Parliament in response to reporters’ questions.

Police are accused of having planted more than 100 telephone numbers related to an illegal Islamist organization in the mobile phone of Lt. Mehmet Ali Çelebi, a suspect in the Ergenekon case who has been under arrest for 29 months. The Istanbul Police Department has said the numbers might have been added to Çelebi’s phone “by mistake.”

In a hearing Sept. 20, the judge in the ongoing case asked Lt. Çelebi about his relationship with Mahmut Oğuz Kazancı, a member of the illegal Islamist Hizb ut-Tahrir organization, saying the two men shared some of the same numbers in their mobile phones. The judge soon realized, however, that some of the records in Çelebi’s phone book were labeled “My mother-in-law” and “My wife,” even though the lieutenant is single.

Çelebi denied any connection to Kazancı, leading the court to ask experts to examine the lieutenant’s mobile phone. It also asked the Telecommunication Transmission Directorate, or TİB, to examine the records related to Çelebi’s phone calls.

The expert report concluded that there are 531 numbers in the phone book of Çelebi’s phone, daily Vatan reported Wednesday. The lieutenant surrendered Sept. 18 to the Ankara Central Commandership after learning that he was under investigation in the Ergenekon case. His phone was sent to the Istanbul Police Department on Sept. 19 to be examined. According to the TİB report, his phone was turned on that night and remained turned on for one minute and 23 seconds. The signals were coming from the same location as the Police Department.

According to the experts, 139 phone numbers were added to Çelebi’s phone at the same time his phone was turned on Sept. 19. These numbers were the same as those in Kazancı’s phone book.

Following media reports on the claims, the Istanbul Police Department said in a written statement Wednesday that the phone numbers might have been added “by mistake” to the police document showing Çelebi’s saved phone numbers – the same explanation it sent to the court in December. The department rejected claims that evidence had been produced against Çelebi, leading his arrest.

The lieutenant’s lawyers filed a criminal complaint Thursday, asking for relevant police officers to be charged with misuse of office, defamation and eliminating, hiding or tampering with evidence.

In its statement, the police department also said Çelebi’s phone was switched on Sept. 19 for technical personnel to register the information on the phone for official documents, something it said is a routine procedure for every suspect. It also said the accusations against Çelebi derived from the tapping of his phone conversations and from the testimonies of two suspects tried for membership in Hizb ut-Tahrir.

The phone numbers about which the allegations were made were not used as evidence against Çelebi, the statement said.

The Ergenekon case started in June 2007 with the discovery of 27 hand grenades in a shanty house belonging to a retired noncommissioned officer. The finding has led to scores of arrests and put nearly 200 journalists, writers, military personnel, gang leaders, scholars, businessmen and politicians in detention in what has become a terror investigation to stop an alleged ultranationalist, shadowy gang known as Ergenekon. In later stages of the investigation, those in custody have been accused of planning to topple the government by staging a coup, initially by spreading chaos and mayhem. Currently there are two separate Ergenekon cases, all covering the suspected members of the same organization.

[BOX]

[HH] A controversial organization

The "Party of Liberation” in English, Hizb ut-Tahrir is an international Islamist organization that aims to unite Muslims of the world under the umbrella of a single caliphate. Founded in 1953 in Jerusalem, it is active in dozens of countries, including Turkey and Central Asian republics, while commanding a solid support base in the United Kingdom, where it is not outlawed.

The organization, an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, is outlawed in many other countries, but it officially disapproves of violence. However, some of its alleged members who were taken into custody in July 2009 through police operations in Istanbul had various firearms in their possession, according to media reports at the time.

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