When did Erdoğan know about the bribe probe?
One of the biggest corruption probes in Turkish history has put Tayyip Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) government in additional difficulties, as the country heads to critical local elections on March 30.
The sons of three Cabinet ministers, Economy Minister Zafer Çağlayan, Environment and Urbanization Minister Erdoğan Bayraktar and Interior Minister Muammer Güler, are still under interrogation by prosecutors in the Istanbul police headquarters. So is Süleyman Aslan, the general manager of the state-run Halkbank, and there are reports that police found $4.5 million in cash in shoe boxes in his house in Ankara. That money is allegedly a bribe to transfer money from the gold trade of Iranian-Azeri businessman Reza Zarrab to Iran, in cooperation with Economy Minister Çağlayan. In order to provide short-cut Turkish citizenship to Zarrab (which he received, adopting the name Rıza Sarraf) the prosecutors think the names of Interior Minister Güler and Turkey’s EU Minister Egenem Bağış were involved in the process.
Prosecutors could only write a letter to Parliament for the questioning or trial of ministers, owing to their parliamentary immunity, which goes far beyond the limits of freedom of speech.
Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç said in a press conference on Dec. 18 that it was up to Erdoğan to dismiss the ministers involved or ask for their resignation, or the ministers could even themselves consider resigning. Claiming that the whole operation was a “psychological warfare operation” by those “who could not bring down the AK Parti government in the Gezi protests” earlier this year, Arınç said the government would nevertheless not block the probe and would keep its promises to fight against corruption.
That vow was not enough for Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the leader of the main opposition Republican People’sParty (CHP). Pointing to the fact that the government had moved five police chiefs who carried out the detention operations within 24 hours, Kılıçdaroğlu urged the government not to intervene in the legal process.
However, accusing the police chiefs of not informing - in advance of the operation - their superiors, who could have then informed their superior (the interior minister), Arınç said it must be sad for an interior minister to be the last to learn of his son’s arrest. The police reportedly found six money safes, a money counting machine, and a money log book worth $3 million, in the house of Barış Güler, the interior minister’s son.
But really, when did the government, or rather Erdoğan, know about the corruption probe that the names of four ministers are involved in?
There is a picture above by Hürriyet Daily News photo reporter Selahattin Sönmez, taken at midday on Monday, Dec. 16. As Erdoğan was leaving the signing ceremony of the readmission agreement between Turkey and the European Union, Economy Minister Çağlayan approaches and starts to tell him something. Erdoğan’s face turns sour and he replies to Çağlayan with hand gestures. You can observe ministers Güler and Bağış (from behind their heads), who are also listening to the conversation very carefully. You can also observe Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu’s face on the other side of the photo, and see that he is alien to the subject going on there. Now we know that those were the hours when Istanbul police teams arrived in Ankara for arrests and to coincidentally ask for an address from a patrolling police car, which alerted the Ankara police. The question now is, whether that was the time when Erdoğan learned about the probe, which is likely to force him to accelerate and change his plans about a Cabinet reshuffle, which will be more radical than he has been planning for some time.