Turkish ex-minister says key graft suspect bought luxury-watch ‘as he did not have time’

Turkish ex-minister says key graft suspect bought luxury-watch ‘as he did not have time’

Turkish ex-minister says key graft suspect bought luxury-watch ‘as he did not have time’

Former Economy Minister Zafer Çağlayan shows his watch during a Parliament session.

Former Economy Minister Zafer Çağlayan, who was among the suspects in Turkey’s quashed corruption probe last December and was accused of receiving a customized watch worth 700,000 liras as a bribe from a shady Azeri-Iranian businessman, has said he asked the businessman to buy it for him but paid for it himself.

Giving his testimony at the parliamentary graft commission formed to investigate corruption allegations against four former ministers, Çağlayan said he did not have time to purchase the watch abroad, so asked Azeri-Iranian businessman Reza Zarrab to do so and paid back the value of the watch in person.

Çağlayan had claimed during a special parliamentary session on corruption accusations in May that he had paid the entire sum himself and the guarantee certificate was in his name, even though the bill was not. However, the watch company, Patek Phillipe, said their guarantee certificates did not bear anyone’s name.

Çağlayan paid 250,000 liras in late November as a customs fine for the much-debated luxury watch, due to actions contrary to customs legislation.

In the parliamentary commission, he said the allegations that were being investigated had actually already been investigated by the authorities and a verdict of non-prosecution was given. Stating that he had developed prostate cancer after the December graft probes, he also said he should have been in bed resting rather than in Parliament.

An Istanbul prosecutor had ruled on Oct. 17 not to proceed against 53 graft suspects, including four former ministers, the sons of the former ministers, the former manager of state-run Halkbank, and Zarrab.

Former ministers Erdoğan Bayraktar, Egemen Bağış, Muammer Güler and Çağlayan resigned from Cabinet after a huge graft operation highlighted their relations with Zarrab, who allegedly paid them a number of bribes over a number of years.

Responding to questions about allegations that his executive assistant Onur Kaya was a mediator for Zarrab to secure contacts in other ministries, Çağlayan said he did not know what his executive assistant might have done with Zarrab but it was “possible that he might have undertaken some duties.”

Verifying that Zarrab had also given him a piano, Çağlayan, who testified at the commission for an hour and 45 minutes in the presence of two lawyers, said he paid for the piano with his wife’s money. He said he had got to know many businessmen during his time as the head of the chamber of industry, including Zarrab.

Asked about allegations that his son Kaan Çağlayan received bribes worth 2 million euros, $2 million and 1.5 million Turkish Liras, in a number of bags, the former minister said that if his son had a working relationship with Zarrab then this had nothing to do with him.

Parliament decided to establish an investigation commission to probe four former ministers on May 5. Çağlayan was the last name to testify before the commission, coming after the three former ministers.

Turkey’s media organizations were banned from reporting on the commission in a Nov. 25 ruling, but the judge had later said the ban was applied on publishing all speeches in the commission “quote by quote,” which is also banned in parliamentary regulations.