A snapshot of our independent judiciary
MEHMET Y. YILMAZThe Security Director (Police Chief) of the Wallis canton in Switzerland, Christian Varone, spent his vacation in our southern province Antalya’s Side district this summer.
He arrived at Antalya Airport on July 27 to return home. While passing through security, two pieces of marble were found in his luggage.
Antalya Airport police detained Varone. At the initial archeological examination of the marbles, it was discovered that they were pieces of capital belonging to the Roman period.
A police chief who is a historical artifact smuggler!
Security director Varone spent the weekend in detention and appeared in court on July 30. He was arrested and sent to Antalya L Type Prison. As you can easily guess, the Swiss Foreign Ministry was mobilized. Varone is a member of the same political party (the Free Democratic Party) as Swiss Foreign Minister Didier Burghalter. He is an important politician who his party will nominate for next year’s cantonal elections. For this reason, it is not difficult to guess what kind of initiatives the Swiss Foreign Ministry presented to the Turkish Foreign Ministry.
Varone’s lawyer objected to the arrest, but the prosecutor investigating the case demanded its continuation. On July 31, the court in Antalya convened in the afternoon. Meanwhile, a new prosecutor was appointed in place of the one who had demanded the continuation of the arrest.
In his defense, Varone said he did not know it was a crime in Turkey to take a historic artifact out of the country (he is a lawyer and director of police). Also, he claimed that it was not a crime in his own country to take historic artifacts out of the country. (In Switzerland, the punishment for this crime is a minimum one year in jail and a minimum fine of 100,000 Swiss francs.)
The high court in Antalya believed Varone. He was released without bail at the July 31 hearing. The next day, he went home free as a bird.
The incident was reported in Swiss newspapers as follows: “The Turks detained our Wallis security director for a pebble and sent him to prison.”
At the press conference he held in Switzerland, Varone initially apologized to Turkey, but he later changed his stance so as not to risk his candidacy for a cantonal government seat. In the television shows he later participated in and in interviews he gave to papers, he described the historic marble he was trying to smuggle from Turkey thus: “It was small, dirty, only as big as a fist. It had no resemblance to a historic artifact.”
The top Swiss television channel, SF1, focused on the incident in detail the other evening on its news show, “Schweizer Aktuell.” It was able to find a photograph of the artifact that was found in Varone’s suitcase, as well as the police report, through daily Hürriyet’s correspondent Selma Güven Stroppel.
The Turkish Embassy issued a press release, saying the photograph and the police report that were shown on SF1 totally reflected the truth.
Varone has a hearing scheduled on Sept. 25 in Antalya, but he will not come to Turkey for it.
This is the end of our story.
At the same time, this story is a snapshot of the “independent judiciary” in Turkey.
It is repeatedly insisted that deputies, journalists, and army officers be tried under arrest, but when it comes to an important person caught with a historic artifact in his luggage - a person who is surely known to be leaving for Switzerland upon release and never coming back - the procedure changes.
Obviously, the Swiss Foreign Ministry’s initiatives were influential at the Turkish Foreign Ministry and certain people whispered into the ear of the judiciary: “Let the man go.”
As Varone was leaving the court building in Antalya, I wonder whether or not he chanted: “Long live Turkish justice.”
Mehmet Y. Yýlmaz is a columnist for daily Hürriyet, in which this piece was published on Sept. 10. It was translated into English by the Daily News staff.