Is this the way to fight corruption?
An investigative commission at Turkey’s Parliament saw no need for the trial of four former ministers of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) over corruption allegations, thanks to the dominant votes of the AK Parti MPs at the commission on Jan. 5.
Hakkı Köylü, the commission chairman, announced after the vote that all nine AK Parti members of the panel, including himself, had voted to prevent the former ministers from appearing before the court, against five opposition members - four from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) and one from the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP).
If the panel had ruled that the ministers should be tried, whether or not to lift their immunities would again be subject to a parliamentary vote. The report about the commission’s work will again go to a parliamentary vote, but after the panel decision yesterday it is not likely that the dominant AK Parti group in Parliament would allow their members to be tried by the Supreme Court (the Constitutional Court) on charges of corruption and bribery.
The names of four ex-ministers, Muammer Güler (Interior), Zafer Çağlayan (Economy), Erdoğan Bayraktar (Environment and Urbanization) and Egemen Bağış (European Union Affairs) were involved in the graft probe opened on Dec. 17, 2013 in relation to an Iranian-origin businessman, Reza Zarrab (or Rıza Sarraf after he adopted Turkish citizenship). Zarrab was involved in oil-for-gold trade between Iran and Turkey.
The corruption allegations then spilled over to (then Prime Minister, now President) Tayyip Erdoğan’s close circle in another probe on Dec. 25, 2013, after he left those four names out of the Cabinet earlier in the day. It was then that Erdoğan, feeling “betrayed and fooled” by his former close ally Fethullah Gülen, a moderate Islamist ideologue living in the U.S., denounced the cases as not being genuine graft probes but rather a “coup attempt” by Gülenists in the judicial and security system. Erdoğan labelled these figures as a “parallel structure within the state.”
Through a series of moves to change the rules of the game of the judicial system, the government managed to change the prosecutors and judges of certain courts, which later dropped all charges and closed the files of the Dec. 17-25 probes. But Parliament’s decision to convene the commission could not be ruled out by those courts.
For the last few days there has been an incredible media campaign on behalf of the AK Parti, claiming that to send the ex-ministers to the Supreme Court would mean justifying the graft probe, which is actually a “coup attempt” in the eyes of the AK Parti.
In the meantime, AK Parti officials have also started a defamation campaign against the Constitutional Court. Bağış, one of the ex-ministers, said via his Twitter account that the Supreme Court had “nothing to say” because the “supreme decision of the nation” - meaning the vote supremacy of the AK Parti - was already established.
Yesterday, the ex-ministers were happy and proud to have been cleared by their AK Parti comrades, with no need to go to the Court. But is this the way to be cleared in the eyes of public opinion? Is this the way to fight corruption? Is this the way to govern well? The answers to those questions matter when it comes to the quality of democracy in Turkey.