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Sledgehammer leads to new judicial crisis in Turkey

ISTANBUL – Hürriyet Daily News | 4/6/2010 12:00:00 AM |

Controversy surrounding an investigation into an alleged 2003 coup plot has intensified following the removal of two prosecutors from the probe late Monday.

Controversy surrounding an investigation into an alleged 2003 coup plot intensified following the removal of two prosecutors from the probe late Monday.

Istanbul's chief prosecutor, Aykut Cengiz Engin ordered the removal of prosecutors Mehmet Berk and Bilal Bayraktar from the “Balyoz” (Sledgehammer) probe at the same time that a new wave of arrests of 70 soldiers was halted pending further developments.

Engin also changed the coordinating prosecutor of the investigation Tuesday, replacing Süleyman Pehlivan with Mehmet Ergül.

Speaking with reporters, Kadir Özbek, deputy head of the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors, or HSYK, said the chief prosecutor has the authority to reorganize the investigations under his jurisdiction.

He also said it was not the HSYK’s job to comment on such matters.

Asked about the issue, Justice Minister Sadullah Ergin said the developments are part of wider issues affecting the Turkish judiciary, noting that there have been discussions to reform the judicial system for some time.

Claiming he did not want to comment on individual cases, Ergin said, “We need to fix this from its fundamentals.”

Noting the critical investigations currently being handled by prosecutors, Engin said: “Our deputy chief prosecutor [Turan Çolakkadı] is in charge of the Sledgehammer investigation. He had made a change in the duties of his colleagues … and this change has reasonable causes.”

Engin, who also believes Çolakkadı’s decisions were correct, said the investigations currently underway were halted following the reorganization to provide the new prosecutors time to examine the relevant Sledgehammer files.

Meanwhile, Bayraktar and Berk were not officially informed of their removal from the case and only learned about developments from the media, the CNNTürk news site reported Tuesday.

Nine soldiers were rearrested Tuesday as part of the investigation, Doğan news agency reported.

The council of Istanbul’s 12th Court of Serious Crimes revoked Sunday the decision to release the nine soldiers, together with 10 more active and retired military personnel, which was initially ordered by on-duty Judge Oktay Kuban on Thursday.

The council criticized Kuban for “employing discretionary power without limits, responsibility and in an arbitrary way” in its justification for the issuing of the arrest warrant for the 19 suspects, along with two others.

Of the 19, retired generals Çetin Doğan and Engin Alan are currently undergoing medical treatment at Gülhane Military Medical Academy, or GATA.

Meanwhile, Şükrü Sarışık, former secretary of the National Security Council, or MGK, was sent to the court after prosecutors demanded his arrest.

Sledgehammer is an alleged military coup plot against the leading Justice and Development Party, or AKP, drafted in 2003. According to allegations, the military planned drastic measures to foment unrest in the country in an effort to remove the AKP from power.

The measures included bombing two major mosques in Istanbul, an assault on a military museum by people disguised as religious extremists and the raising of tension with Greece through an attack on a Turkish plane to be blamed on the Aegean neighbor.

The suspects of the “Sledgehammer” case are being tried on charges of “attempting to bring down the government of the Republic of Turkey by employing force and violence” and “membership in an armed terrorist organization.”

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