A gray area in the corruption debates
With the Parliament returned from recess earlier this week, the controversial chapter of the new term has emerged: The investigation commissions to be formed about the four former cabinet ministers of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) whose names were involved in corruption claims.
Because AK Party also tabled a similar motion, the relevant commissions about the ministers should be formed by the first week of May.
What is seen in the horizon at this stage is the investigation process that needs to be finalized at a maximum of four months will coincide with the presidential elections.
Actually, it is possible for the majority of the ruling party to finalize these files rapidly, with a two-month effort before the Parliament enters summer recess. However, past experiences show that the investigation commissions wait for the four month period till the end each time. Also, a rapid investigation as such would add more questions that are already in the minds of the public.
A realistic expectation would be that the commissions’ work will not be finalized with the intervention of the presidential elections and the summer recess; everything will be carried to the coming fall.
In the case that there are no early elections, Parliament will open at the beginning of October when the commissions will pick up from where they left. In this case, the voting at the general assembly of the Parliament on whether or not to send the former ministers to the Supreme Council may be delayed until December. It is a high probability that a decision of acquittal will be reached within the framework of the AK Party’s majority in Parliament.
However, after the completion of the presidential election in August – especially in the case that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan ascends to the Çankaya Presidential Mansion - it is inevitable that a new political picture will appear in the country. The new political climate – despite all the statements saying the opposite – may open the door to an early election. In this case, the investigation commissions will become obsolete. If the accused ministers return to Parliament, the process will start from the beginning.
The critical question is the issue of what will happen to these files if these ministers are not reelected as deputies, thus losing their immunities.
In an earlier column, I had written that in this case, it is a “probability” that the summary of proceedings about the former ministers would end up at the desk of the prosecutors at the Çağlayan Courthouse.
The question above – although it does not completely exclude the probability I mentioned – falls into an interesting legal debate area where confronting opinions step in.
I can say that a series of different views came up among the politicians, academics and the judiciary I have consulted.
In the first group, there are those who defend the conservative view. According to this view, within the framework of Article 107 of the parliamentary internal regulations, if there are claims stemming from “the affairs concerning their duties in the ministry” then the former ministers will definitely be tried at the Supreme Council.
However, there are different theses on the method leading to the Supreme Council. According to one view, even though their immunities no longer exist, it is still a must that Parliament should make a decision. However, in the case that the majority in the Parliament will not opt for that due to political reasons, then a situation will emerge where claims will not be investigated.
Another view is that in the case that parliamentary immunities end, in order to start the Supreme Council mechanism, a parliamentary decision is not necessary. According to this view, the office of the prosecutor in Istanbul can directly send the files containing the evidence about former ministers to the Chief Prosecutor of the Supreme Court of Appeals – which acts as the prosecutor’s office of the Supreme Council. The Office of the Chief Prosecutor may start the Supreme Council process by preparing the indictment.
Those who approach this thesis with caution are pointing out that the Chief Prosecutor, in the case that the file reaches him, may resend it to the Parliament and withdraw.
Another probability is that in the case the accusations are not investigated, the office of the prosecutor in Istanbul would proceed using his own initiative. There is a critical line separating the jurisdiction of the Supreme Council and a normal court. This line is whether or not the attributed claims fall within “the affairs concerning the duties of a minister.” In the charges that are not associated with the duty, the hand of the prosecutor is quite free. However, this is a situation where each file is assessed within its own special circumstances.
In the case that a state of “unaccountability” emerges as a result of political obstructions, we can say that we will be cohabiting with this debate for a long time.