AKP deputies hear self-defense from former ministers accused of graft

AKP deputies hear self-defense from former ministers accused of graft

Nuray Babacan / Turan Yılmaz ANKARA
AKP deputies hear self-defense from former ministers accused of graft

Former Economy Minister Zafer Çağlayan reacts showing his watch during a session on graft allegations against him and other three ex-ministers at the Turkish Parliament, in Ankara, May 5. AFP Photo

The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) lawmakers gathered ahead of the long-delayed General Assembly session at Parliament on May 5.

At the AKP deputies’ session, the summary of proceedings on four former ministers was debated, with those accused of corruption presenting their self-defense to their colleagues. One of the ministers involved in the accusations was reportedly unable to hold back his tears.

Former Economy Minister Zafer Çağlayan, former EU Minister Egemen Bağış, former Interior Minister Muammer Güler and former Urbanization and Environment Planning Minister Erdoğan Bayraktar delivered their defenses one by one during the breakfast meeting with AKP lawmakers, chaired by Deputy Prime Minister Beşir Atalay and the party’s executive officials.

Çağlayan, for his part, touched upon claims about being plied by Reza Zarrab with a watch worth 700,000 Turkish Liras. Çağlayan, however, did not cite the cost of the watch.

Zarrab is an Iranian-Azeri businessman and gold dealer who is at the center of the massive graft probe that went public on Dec. 17, 2013 and has implicated four former members of the Cabinet. Zarrab has been accused of bribing the former ministers to cover up a deal that allegedly saw Iran sell oil and gas to Turkey in return for cash that was then converted into gold by a Turkish bank and exported to Tehran, often via Dubai.

‘Watch’s warranty document has my name on it’

“I saw this watch in a newspaper and I liked it a lot. I contacted the related company and they told me they have been working on a personalized production system,” Çağlayan reportedly told lawmakers.
“Later, the company manager called me and asked if I would buy it. While this conversation was taking place, Zarrab was around. He said: ‘We have an office there; they will buy it for you and bring it here.’

Later, they sent me the watch in a vehicle. The bill has the name of the buyer on it, but its warranty document has my name on it. I paid the cost of the watch and I also put it on my declaration of property,” Çağlayan said.

Sad ex-minister bursts into tears

Meanwhile, Bayraktar, who took the floor following Çağlayan, first noted that the file in which his name was involved had already been already dismissed.

“I’m in a very difficult situation due to these groundless claims. I can’t come to Parliament and I’ve been crying day and night. I apologize to each of you, one by one, because I brought trouble like this before the [local March 30] elections,” Bayraktar said. After he finished his remarks, he reportedly broke into tears.

Güler, for his part, explained how he met with Zarrab and also denied having been involved in any corruption. However, he did not say anything about the money found in his son’s bedroom.

Çağlayan, Güler and Bayraktar resigned days after the eruption of the huge corruption scandal on Dec. 17, when the police detained their sons and businessmen close to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Bağış was replaced by Erdoğan as part of a major Cabinet reshuffle on Dec. 25. All four ex-members of the Cabinet deny any wrongdoing.

Lawmakers reportedly addressed tough questions to the ex-ministers and most of them were about Zarrab.

Secret voting, obvious tendency

At the same meeting, AKP Deputy Parliamentary Group Chair Nurettin Canikli recalled that they were not able to make a party decision to form an inquiry commission regarding the claims, because the decision will be made through secret voting. Canikli noted that the party was generally in favor of forming such a commission, in line with their party’s proposal filed to Parliament.

Bayraktar’s case was included in the proposal, though the related file was dismissed for practical reasons in order to not allow such a thing be exploited by the opposition parties, he added.

“Let the process begin and then we will look into that [the related file] again,” Canikli reportedly said.

The main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) has filed four separate motions for an inquiry into the former ministers, while the ruling AKP only filed one motion for an inquiry into all four.