Dimensions of the wiretapping scandal becoming clear

Dimensions of the wiretapping scandal becoming clear

The statement from Istanbul chief prosecutor Hadi Salihoğlu the other day following the news stories on how many people had been eavesdropped upon puts the debate on this topic in a more correct perspective. 

First of all, it is understood that the number of wiretapped people was not 7,000 as claimed in the stories. According to the information provided by the chief prosecutor, the number of people wiretapped in the investigation is 2,280. However, the chief prosecutor stated that he believed this figure would go up.

The most critical information in the statement is the date, which is Dec. 17, 2013, the day when the hard discs and files of the wiretapping conducted within the framework of the investigation were submitted to the office of the prosecutor by the Istanbul Police Department. In other words, the day when the first graft operation was launched, the one targeting four Cabinet ministers and Reza Zarrab. In the statement, it has been stated that these records were “hastily” handed over.

There is a series of critical questions we need answers for. The first one is the question of why the police’s anti-terror department waited until Dec. 17 to hand in the recordings to the prosecutor, the ones that have been obtained in an investigation that has been going on for three years. Second, what kind of an evaluation or demand did the police hand in with these recordings? If they prepared a motion, were there any arrest demands for any of the individuals on this list?

We are guessing that the prosecutor, Adem Özkan, who was on the file on that date, did not take any action. The prosecutor was removed from the terror files last January.

In the end, the fate of the file was left suspended as a result of the cleanup and reposting at the Istanbul Police Department and Istanbul judiciary after the Dec. 17 and Dec. 25 waves.

Another question that comes to mind is this: If the government lost its initiative in the face of the Dec. 17 and 25 waves, would there have been some detention decisions issued for a portion of these people on these lists? Was there such a preparation?  

These questions and their answers remain within the boundaries of speculation for the moment.

However, we can list the aspects that we have understood from Salihoğlu’s statement and those that are precise.

The investigation started in 2011 despite the non-existence of “any armed terror act or terror planning,” and the wiretapping activities nevertheless continued for three years. Also, other people were added to the wiretapping list. No doubt, there is a problematic situation here.

Second, several transcripts of the conversations of third persons who are not related to the investigation have also been included in the file. We can conclude from that that the chief prosecutor regards the police, the prosecutor and the judges who have given permission for wiretapping as suspect.

Despite that, one matter has to be made clear about the number of people wiretapped. It seems that the figure 2,280 is not the total number of the people who were lawfully wiretapped. This figure is the number of “those people who have nothing to do with the investigation but who were directly or indirectly eavesdropped upon and their recordings were included in the file.”

In this case, it is understood that this high total is reached with the inclusion on the list of interlocutors who were on the other end of the line.

The point here is that there is no prevention against the violation of privacy in phone tapping. The issue is the practice of including in the file all the recorded conversations of the suspects in the investigations without any filtration.

Unfortunately, there is no binding provision in the Turkish Code of Criminal Procedure (CMK) for the elimination of unrelated wiretap recordings from the file. For this reason, police and prosecutors include all records in the file.

In this respect, the issue is not a new one and it is experienced in almost all investigations. In the mini-democratization package that was passed by Parliament last week, the government made some amendments to phone tapping crimes, but ultimately did not come up with a solution, even though it knew that such an issue existed.

If such an arrangement had been made in the past, we probably would not be facing such an issue today.

Moreover, we can even say that the government brought the trouble on itself in this incident – because of its neglect.

Sedat Ergin is a columnist for daily Hürriyet in which this abridged piece was published on Feb 27. It was translated into English by the Daily News staff.