Graft probes triggered fight within Turkish government
Turkey has never seen such a fight within a government before. Here is the list of events since Jan. 6, Monday, as Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan left Turkey for Japan on the evening of Jan. 5:
*An İstanbul court imposed an interim injunction on Jan. 6 on the assets of a group of businessmen whose names were reportedly on the list of a bribery probe, which had been asked for by an Istanbul prosecutor, Muammer Akkaş on Dec. 24 but could not be proceeded with since Istanbul Police Chief Selami Altınok refused to act on the prosecutor’s orders. That probe was allegedly linked to an NGO in which PM’s son Bilal Erdoğan was among the board. Erdoğan has regarded the probe as a “plot” with roots outside of Turkey, by those who want to get him down by hitting his son. Altınok was the new police chief who assumed the post after the former one was removed (together with hundreds of colleagues) from their posts by the government, because they obeyed the orders of prosecutors in carrying out the major graft operation on Dec. 17, without telling the (former) Interior Minister, during which his son was also arrested. The new police chief was not very experienced but he was the classmate of the new Interior Minister, Efkan Ala, who was appointed in a cabinet reshuffle on Dec. 25, when PM Erdoğan had to sack four ministers whose names were involved in the probe. Erdoğan was assuming that those members of the judiciary and the police were sympathizers of the U.S.-resident moderate scholar Fethullah Gülen, who used to be his major ally in carrying out probes and operations against the role of the military in politics and judiciary, like Ergenekon and Balyoz (Sledgehammer) between 2007 and 2012. So, the court decision against – mostly pro-government – businessmen was sure to be taken by the government as a “bring-it-on” signal from the other side.
* On the evening of Jan. 6, the Interior Ministry took 350 policemen, some 50 of them in operative positions from office in Ankara alone; the biggest ever purge in one move. The total number of policemen removed from offices that day was around 600 when similar actions in other cities were included, making a total of around 1700 policemen removed from their offices by the government. The same day pro-government Sabah newspaper ran a front page story reporting that one of the Istanbul prosecutors, Zekeriya Öz, allegedly masterminded the Ergenekon and Balyoz cases, had taken a 78,000 Turkish Liras (US$ 35,000) worth holiday in Dubai for him and family from Ali Ağaoğlu, a construction company owner who had been taken into custody for four days during the Dec. 17 operations because of giving bribes to facilitate his business with the government. Öz denied, but Ağaoğlu confirmed the story.
*In the morning of Jan. 7, the fraud police started a bribery operation in İzmir, which spread to Ankara, İskenderun, Bitlis and Van and detained 25 people working in the ports sections of the Turkish Railroads Directorate (TCDD). An interesting point was that TCDD is run by Transportation Ministry and former Transportation Minister Binali Yıldırım was shown as mayoral candidate for March 30 local elections by Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) for İzmir, a known stronghold for the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP).
* The Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK) in the meantime convened and decided to open up an investigation against Öz, because of possible bribery, Akkaş because of the way of making public that he was stopped from carrying out a graft probe, two more prosecutors and the Istanbul police chief because of stopping the investigation and allowing potential evidence to be destroyed. The answer was soon to come: Government has removed three more police chiefs who had taken place in the bribery operation in İzmir from their offices.
One has to note that everything is happening within the AK Parti trenches so far. The dirty laundry in the house of AK Parti is spread out by those under the same roof already.
An initiative taken by the conservative journalist Fehmi Koru, who wanted to mediate a truce between Gülen and Erdoğan has apparently failed as Erdoğan disclosed and dismissed the hidden traffic in between.
The opposition is enjoying the situation and hitting the government hard. CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu warned Erdoğan yesterday and said that if he tried to cover the corruption allegations up he would certainly be put before the judges himself one day. The leader of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), Devlet Bahçeli was more strong in his language and said that PM was “losing his mental health” since he was trying to explain the graft probes with conspiracy theories.
No one is in a position to guess what will happen tomorrow, including the players in the game.