High-profile figures among 52 detained in major corruption operation in Turkey
ISTANBUL / ANKARA
Barış Güler, the son of Interior Minister Muammer Güler, is among the 52 people who have been detained in the bribery probe. CİHAN photo
A corruption operation targeting the relatives of ministers, well-known businesspeople, a mayor and several civil servants has sent shock waves through Turkey, prompting opposition parties to call for the prime minister’s resignation.
At least 52 people, including the sons of three Cabinet members, businessmen, officials and a mayor were detained in three separate investigations, on accusations of accepting and facilitating bribes for state projects and receiving construction permits for protected areas in exchange for money. The spokesperson for the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) has said all must done to shed light on the truth. Interior Minister Muammer Güler's son Barış Güler, Economy Minister Zafer Çağlayan’s son Salih Kaan Çağlayan and Environment and Urbanization Minister Erdoğan Bayraktar's son
Abdullah Oğuz Bayraktar, as well as Azeri businessman Reza Zarrab, were among those detained.
Halkbank General Manager Süleyman Aslan, Fatih Mayor Mustafa Demir, construction tycoons Ali Ağaoğlu, Osman Ağca and Emrullah Turanlı, Environment Ministry General Manager Mehmet Ali Kahraman, Environment Minister Adviser Sadık Soylu, and Minister Çağslayan’s executive assistants, Mustafa Behçet Kaynar and Onur Kaya, were also taken into custody.
Ministers Güler and Çağlayan canceled their programs yesterday after the operation was announced.
The raids were based on three separate investigations. The first was launched against Zarrab on allegations of running a crime ring. The Azeri businessman is accused of paying bribes to Cabinet members to cover his suspicious money transactions and to get Turkish citizenship for his relatives and his men in the alleged crime gang.
Illegal money transfers to Iran via Halkbank were also caught on the police radar during an investigation launched in 2012. Zarrab is also accused of paying bribes to Cabinet members and bank executives for such transactions.
Prosecutors will ask Parliament to lift the political immunity of another minister on similar charges, according to reports.
Halkbank came to the agenda in April when it was forced to deny claims that it was carrying out any operations that could break sanctions on Iran.
Alleged crime ring
Halkbank issued an official statement on April 21 denying that it was breaching sanctions imposed by the United States on Iran, after domestic media recently reported that 47 deputies in the U.S. Senate had requested sanctions on Halkbank.
The second probe targets Abdullah Oğuz Bayraktar, who is accused of establishing a crime ring and accepting bribes from major firms in exchange for construction permits in areas that were the ministry’s responsibility. Twenty-two of the detained are part of this investigation.
The third probe is into allegations that protected areas in Fatih were illegally built on by construction in return for bribes. Demir is also accused of allowing the construction of a hotel near the route of the Marmaray, despite negative reports from engineers and state institutions.
Ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) spokesperson Hüseyin Çelik called for attention to be paid to the presumption of innocence of those taken into custody. “Our government has displayed maximum sensitivity over corruption and fraud since it came to the power. We will continue to do so without a doubt. In a state of law, everybody is equal before the law. As the AKP, we are calling for everything to be done to reveal the truth,” he said in a statement.
The main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) called on the prime minister to resign, while the deputy group leader of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), Oktay Vural, underlined that the investigation should move forward to wherever it leads, regardless of who was involved.
“This is the biggest scandal of the republic’s history. The prime minister should resign,” CHP Deputy Parliamentary Group Chair Engin Altay said.
Altay announced that his party had hastily set up a “crisis desk,” in order to closely follow the process. Both Altay and CHP Deputy Chair Umut Oran called on Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to resign, while Oran also proposed a vote of confidence from Parliament as an option in line with the Constitution’s requirements.
The ministers should not continue their duties with respect to democracy, since their children have been taken into custody, Vural said.
“We will pursue this. The prime minister has become the biggest real estate agent in the world. All public lands are engaged to the Prime ministry. The people who will invest in these properties have to get permission from the prime minister,” Vural said, suggesting that many permits were being held in the Prime Minister's Office.