Turkey’s former EU Minister Bağış admits receiving gifts from key graft probe suspect
Former EU Minister Egemen Bağış (R) and Former Economy Minister Zafer Çağlayan are among the four government officials being inquired for graft.Former EU Minister Egemen Bağış has admitted receiving gifts including “chocolate, shirts and ties” from Iranian-Azeri businessman Reza Zarrab and said he helped some of Zarrab’s friends receive visas, speaking at a parliamentary commission on corruption allegations on Nov. 27. He also described “gift giving” as a “Turkish tradition.”
Bağış denied claims that he had received bribes from Zarrab, as had been accused in the Dec. 17 investigation. However, he told the commission that acquaintances had sent “some gifts” to his house on special days such as New Year and religious holidays, denying that any of these gifts were money.
The former minister said he met with Reza Zarrab in the United States via Zarrab’s wife Ebru Gündeş, who is a well-known Turkish singer. He said Zarrab had sent a present as part of their “humanly relations” and he later called Zarrab to thank him for the gift.
Bağış also stated that he helped friends of Zarrab to get visas for Turkey, but added that he had extended such help to many other people too.
When asked about Zarrab’s men talking over the phone about $500,000, wiretap recordings of which were included in the Dec. 17 probe, Bağış said he had “nothing to do with this.”
“These are phone conversations of people who have nothing to do with me. I have no link to that. Can a visa cost $500,000?” he told the commission.
Parliament decided to establish an investigation commission to probe former ministers Erdoğan Bayraktar, Egemen Bağış, Zafer Çağlayan and Muammer Güler on May 5, after deliberations between political parties.
The four ministers resigned from Cabinet after a huge graft operation highlighted their relations with Iranian-origin businessman Reza Zarrab, who allegedly paid them a number of bribes over the last few years. Along with Zarrab, former Halkbank chief executive Süleyman Aslan is among the suspects of the corruption probe.
Turkey’s media organizations were banned from reporting on the parliamentary commission in a Nov. 25 ruling.
However, a judge has since ruled that the ban was applied on publishing all speeches in the commission quote by quote, which is also banned in Parliament regulations. “Comments and criticisms” are not banned, the judge stated.