New details revealed about Turkey’s ongoing graft probe
Azeri businessman Reza Zarrab is accused of paying bribes to Cabinet members. CİHAN photoThe details are gradually being revealed regarding the ongoing corruption investigations, which first shocked the country on Dec. 17 when the sons of three ministers, a mayor, and several businessmen were detained on bribery charges.
The operations were made up of three separate investigations.
The first raid was launched against Azeri businessman Reza Zarrab on allegations that he was running a crime ring. The Azeri businessman is accused of paying bribes to Cabinet members to cover his suspicious money transactions and get Turkish citizenship for his relatives and his men in the alleged crime gang.
Zarrab allegedly gave bribes to Interior Minister Muammer Güler’s son Barış Güler, Economy Minister Zafer Çağlayan’s son Salih Kaan Çağlayan, and Halkbank General Manager Süleyman Aslan, in order to enable the transactions of money and gold between Turkey, Iran and Russia, daily Hürriyet reported on Dec. 18.
Zarrab allegedly transferred gold to Iran in exchange for money in 2012 with the help of his relations with a number of top politicians. In April 2011, Turgut Happani, who was Zarrab’s driver, was among the 14 people detained for smuggling $150 million in cases from Turkey to Russia. Happani also shared a picture of himself and two others holding a mountain of dollars on his Facebook page. At that time, Zarrab said he knew Happani, but denied the claims that he was his driver and filed a complaint against media outlets that published his name in the smuggling report. After the seizure of the money in Russia, Zarrab allegedly used Turkey’s state owned bank Halkbank when sending or receiving money.
Meanwhile, police seized $4.5 million in cash on the morning of Dec. 18 as part of a fraud and bribery raid in the house of Süleyman Aslan, the general manager of the state-run lender Halkbank. The illegal transactions with Iran amount to almost $10 million, daily Radikal reported on Dec. 18. Around 32 people are detained as part of this probe. Radikal also said Zarrab had chosen Halkbank for transfers as Halkbank had no branches in the United States and would not be blacklisted by that country for transferring money to Iran.
The second probe was regarding illegal construction permits given to several firms in exchange for bribes. Environment and Urbanization Minister Erdoğan Bayraktar’s son Abdullah Oğuz Bayraktar, construction tycoons Ali Ağaoğlu, Osman Ağca and Emrullah Turanlı, Environment Ministry General Manager Mehmet Ali Kahraman, Environment Minister Adviser Sadık Soylu, Emlak Konut GYO General Manager Murat Kurum, TOKİ Istanbul estate department head Ali Seydi Karaoğlu, Environment Ministry planning official Turgay Albayrak, TOKİ city planning branch head Yavuz Çelik and 14 others are detained as part of this second probe.
The third probe is into allegations of construction permits given to a firm by Istanbul’s Fatih Municipality, despite reports ruling that this construction would threaten the safety of the newly built Marmaray tunnel.
Fatih Mayor Mustafa Demir and Sevinç Doğan, the owner of the RCİ architecture and design firm, are among the 32 people in custody as part of the probe. It is also alleged that a gang worked with the municipality to get permission to construct buildings on protected natural sites within the municipality’s borders.
Istanbul prosecutor’s office announces details
The Istanbul Public Prosecutor’s Office has said that two of a total of three probes currently underway concern violations of the construction law and the coast law.
“Civilians and several public officials are suspects in these three probes, which also include allegations of malpractice and bribery by public officials,” said the statement, released on the Prosecutor’s Office website Dec. 18.
The three probes were opened on Sept. 13, 2012, Sept 21, 2012 and Feb. 14, 2013, the statement added. One of these probes is being conducted by a public prosecutor from the Public Servant Crimes Investigation Department, while the other two are being managed by another prosecutor working at the Smuggling and Narcotics Bureau.
The statement also said the probes had been conducted by other prosecutors in the past, and that changes had taken place due to bureau changes or for other reasons. Control of two probes was given to the current prosecutor in June 2013, while the third was given to its present prosecutor on Dec. 2, 2013.
Two additional prosecutors had also been added to the investigations due to the unique nature of the probes, and the high number of suspects, the statement said.