Corruption probe might grow to rock Turkish gov’t

Corruption probe might grow to rock Turkish gov’t

Tayyip Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) government has had three blows in about 18 hours on Dec. 16 and 17.

The first one, in the afternoon of Dec. 16, was the rejection of the release demands of 5 elected members of the Turkish Parliament in jail on the Kurdish problem-focused Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) list by the Diyarbakır penal court. They thought the Constitutional Court ruling, which lead to the release of the Republican People’s Party (CHP) deputy (and journalist) Mustafa Balbay, would be exemplary for their cases as well. That was also the hope of the government, which thought it could help the dialogue process with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) to have a political settlement on Turkey’s painful Kurdish problem. But things did not work as Erdoğan expected. In the evening hours, the AK Parti was shocked by the resignation of Hakan Şükür, a former striker for Galatasaray and the Turkish national football team, who turned into a popular showcase for the AK Parti by Erdoğan. In his first ever written political statement during his political career, Şükür resigned from AK Parti with strong criticism against Erdoğan, especially over the private supplementary school debate with the “Hizmet” movement of the moderate Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen, who lives in the U.S. Şükür is a known Gülen sympathizer and was the second MP after İdris Bal who resigned earlier because of the same reason. Everyone read the message correctly; it was already published in full length on the web site of the news institutions close to Gülen.

The third and the biggest blow was delivered by the financial crime prosecutors on the morning of Dec. 17. A number of high-profile names were taken into custody with heavy corruption and bribery suspicions. The names included Süleyman Arslan, the general manager of a government-controlled bank, Halkbank; Reza Zarrab, an Azeri origin citizen from Iran who recently adopted Turkish citizenship; Mustafa Demir, the AK Parti Mayor of Istanbul’s Fatih district (covering the historical peninsula) and the sons of three cabinet ministers; namely the Economy Minister Zafer Çağlayan, the Environment and Urbanization Minister Erdoğan Bayraktar and the most interesting, the Interior Minister Muammer Güler, who actually controls the police force. There are unconfirmed reports saying the prosecutors gave a go-ahead for the probe operation when they became suspicious that Güler might learn the tracking operations using eavesdropping and video recordings that had been going on for nearly a year.

It appears that the prosecutors had started the probe when Zarrab was questioned in 2012 because of a gold transfer to Iran through Turkey, when the cargo had been held in Turkey for some time and the U.S. administration sent a letter to the Turkish government, questioning Halkbank’s role in it.

The probe reportedly involved three files. One and the biggest is the Zarrab file, which allegedly involves a money transfer using the government-controlled bank, a sped-up citizenship process for Zarrab and his entourage with a cabinet decree, facilitating their investments in Turkey by allegedly giving bribes through close circles of some ministers. A second probe file is on real estate investment and a number of new-rich construction company owners, including Ali Ağaoğlu, were taken into custody for interrogation. A third one is to provide hotel construction rights in areas which are under legal protection because of their historical and cultural qualities along the route of the newly built Marmaray rail way connecting the European and Asian sides of Istanbul from under the Bosphorus.

Prime Minister Erdoğan declined to comment on the case “because it is an ongoing legal procedure,” but it seems the probe might grow further to shake his cabinet, as Turkey gets closer to three important elections in a row in the coming one-and-a-half years.