ISTANBUL - Hürriyet
PM Erdoğan announced a wide cabinet reshuffle on Dec. 25 after a meeting with President Gül. DAILY NEWS photo, Selahattin SÖNMEZ
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan
has said the real target of the graft probe is himself, while emphasizing that those who aim at him will not succeed.
“If they try to aim at Tayyip Erdoğan through this, they will [be left empty-handed]. They know it and that’s why they are attacking [the ministers],” Erdoğan was quoted as saying by daily Hürriyet when answering the question on whether he was the “target of the operation.”
The interior, economy and environment ministers who were facing bribery and corruption allegations resigned yesterday hours before Erdoğan announced a large cabinet reshuffle which included 10 changes on minister portfolios.
Erdoğan told a group of reporters during a return flight from Pakistan on Dec. 24 that the “operation” was targeting him through the Service for Youth and Education Foundation of Turkey (TÜRGEV), an NGO which counts the prime minister’s son, Bilal Erdoğan, among its board members. He implied that TÜRGEV was being investigated for requesting amendments on the construction plans of a building with the approval of Istanbul’s Fatih Municipality.
Erdoğan said the specific building managed by TÜRGEV had been rented by the municipality as a student residence.
“Is there any municipality that does not carry out social work? The municipality constructs student residences, then rents it for 25 years. You cannot say anything about it,” Erdoğan said.
“That place is a student residence, not Bilal Erdoğan’s hotel. They want to reach me via TÜRGEV. My son is on [TÜRGEV’s] board of management. [Fatih Mayor] Mustafa Demir and the mayor of the Ümraniye district are also on the board. My eldest daughter Esra is on its board. That place is a student residence and they take a lot of pride in it,” Erdoğan said.
Demir was briefly detained last week under the probe on accusations of approving the construction license for a hotel near the route of the recently inaugurated Marmaray railway, despite warnings from Japanese engineers that the construction could put the tunnel at risk of collapsing. Demir is being investigated for ordering the ministry report to be shelved in exchange for bribes. The fraud suspicions led to the examination of all the municipality’s transactions within the investigation, according to reports. ‘Bags may contain books’
Erdoğan also commented about Reza Zarrab, an Iranian-origin young businessman who is considered as the key suspect in the investigation, particularly regarding his transfer of gold and money to Iran
via Turkey’s government-controlled Halkbank.
“He is an individual who makes gold exports. I know he contributes to our country and participates in charity," he said.
Zarrab is also accused to have bribed EU Minister Egemen Bağış for a personal affair. Last week, footage emerged showing Zarrab entering Bağış’s office with bags and going out empty-handed.
“They say he entered the EU Ministry’s Office with bags, but then left without them. Is there any footage showing him handing the bags off? Can it be an approach based only on that he entered the office with bags, but went out without it? Can there be such justice? Maybe the bags contained books or something else,” Erdoğan said.
He also defended Halkbank chief executive Süleyman Aslan, describing him as “honest person.” Aslan was charged with taking bribes by the prosecutors while the police are said to reportedly have found $4.5 million in cash stored in shoe boxes in Aslan’s home.
The sons of former Interior Minister Muammer Güler and the former Economy Minister’s Zafer Çağlayan, Barış Güler and Kaan Çağlayan, were also charged with acting as intermediaries for giving and taking bribes and put under formal arrest on Dec. 21. Former Environment and Urban Planning Minister’s Erdoğan Bayraktar’s son was among those released pending trial.
This high-level graft probe has shaken the government, forcing Erdoğan to make a larger Cabinet reshuffle than what he reportedly had planned ahead of the March 2014 local elections.