Charges against 60 suspects dismissed in Dec 17 graft probe into illegal construction

Charges against 60 suspects dismissed in Dec 17 graft probe into illegal construction

Charges against 60 suspects dismissed in Dec 17 graft probe into illegal construction

Former Environment and Urbanization Minister Erdoğan Bayraktar’s son Abdullah Oğuz Bayraktar was released on Dec. 21. DHA Photo

An Istanbul prosecutor has dismissed cases against 60 suspects, including the son of former Environment and Urbanization Minister Erdoğan Bayraktar and construction tycoon Ali Ağaoğlu, in the second leg of the graft probe into illegal construction permits on May 2.

The prosecutor handling the probe into graft involving Turkey’s state-run Mass Housing Administration Agency (TOKİ) decided not to take the suspects to court, citing “lack of evidence” for his decision, in a major twist in the Turkish graft probe, which rocked the political scene with a series of high-profile detentions on Dec. 17, 2013.

Prosecutor Ekrem Aydıner reviewed the charges and declared a “nolle prosequi” verdict, meaning that the prosecution had ended. Aydıner ruled for the release of those charged, citing illegally gathered evidence, including wiretapped conversations, as a breach of freedom of communication.

The charges dropped on May 2 involved, among others, Abdullah Oğuz Bayraktar, the son of the former urbanization minister, construction tycoon Ali Ağaoğlu, the former head of the Turkish Football Federation (TFF) Mehmet Ali Aydınlar, and the owner of the Zorlu conglomerate, Ahmet Nazif Zorlu.

However, the ruling does not include the leg of the case that includes Iranian-Azeri businessman Reza Zarrab, the top suspect in the case, along with former Interior Minister Muammer Güler’s son Barış Güler and former Economy Minister Zafer Çağlayan’s son Kaan Çağlayan.

In another twist in the investigation, the country’s top judicial body, the Supreme Council of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK), allowed a probe into three prosecutors and one judge who were involved in the case. Prosecutors Zekeriya Öz, Celal Kara and Muammer Akkaş launched the investigation while judge Süleyman Karaçöl ruled for the freezing of assets of the suspects in the case.

Following the detentions on Dec. 17, which targeted some of the closest allies of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the government started purges, which led to the reshuffling of thousands of members in the judiciary and the police.

Erdoğan claimed the probes were part of a “parallel state” conspiracy against his government, led by members of the movement of U.S.-based Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen.

Main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu said the judge’s decision on May 2 was “no surprise” and said the investigation would not “conclude in the way that is expected by the Turkish people.”

In his verdict, the prosecutor cited unlawfully gathered evidence through wiretapping of the suspects, who had been charged with “spoiling, destroying or hiding official documents,” “accepting and/or giving bribes,” “causing constructional pollution,” “forming a gang to commit a crime,” “being a member of an illegal organization,” and “malpractice.”

The prosecutor said the 16th Istanbul Criminal Court of Peace, along with another court, had previously refused the demand of the Office of Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor to eavesdrop on some of the suspects as part of the investigation. However, the 33th Istanbul Criminal Court of Peace accepted a further demand from the Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor to conduct the wiretapping.