Turkish ministers split on export award to key graft suspect

Turkish ministers split on export award to key graft suspect

Turkish ministers split on export award to key graft suspect

AA Photo

Two leading members of the Turkish government have been poles apart regarding their attendance of a ceremony in which a controversial Iranian-Turkish businessman, involved in a huge corruption scandal that has since shaken the country, was awarded for his company’s high export performance.

In the general meeting of the Turkish Exporters Assembly (TİM) on June 21, which was attended by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan along with several cabinet ministers, Reza Zarrab, embroiled in Turkey’s huge corruption probe that went public in December 2013, was awarded for his company’s high export performance. Along with TİM President Mehmet Büyükekşi, Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmuş and Economy Minister Nihat Zeybekci presented Zarrab with the “export champion” award for his company Volgam Gıda, involved in the jewelry sector.

‘No guilty conscience’

Economy Minister Zeybekci said he had “no guilty conscience” over attending the ceremony, while Deputy Prime Minister Kurtulmuş voiced his regret in strongly-worded remarks, which underlined the award as a “fait accompli.”

“I saw the president of the administrative board of the company just yesterday [June 21]. I don’t know him by sight either. It is not the state, but the sector, that drew up the list of nominees,” Zeybekçi told reporters on June 22.

“[Zarrab’s] company came first in its sector. We didn’t know until that moment. If we had known, I don’t know what would have happened. But it would be very exhausting if we started debating about who various politicians in Turkey should or should not stand next to,” Zeybekci said.

“But as the economy minister, I have no guilty conscience over a person whom I saw for the first time,” he said, shying away from using the word “regret.”

Speaking to reporters only a few hours later in the same day, however, Kurtulmuş was clear when he said that he wouldn’t have gone to the ceremony if he had known what would be involved. 

“When we went to award ceremony yesterday; more precisely, when we went to the meeting, we didn’t know to whom we would give awards and which minister would give awards to whom,” Kurtulmuş said, emphasizing that he didn’t know Zarrab at all. According his words, Kurtulmuş wouldn’t even recognize Zarrab if he had seen him on the road.

“I met with a name that I didn’t know, as a fait accompli. I wish the arrangers had informed us about the people to whom we gave awards. If I know that I would give an award to him, I would not have played a part in this ‘frame.’ The emergence of this photo -- believe me -- bothered me the most. Hence, I wish the arrangers regulated these [awards] in advance and we didn’t play a part in this frame,” Kurtulmuş said. 

The incident came at a time when the Justice and Development Party (AKP), which won the highest vote in the June 7 parliamentary election but lost its parliamentary majority, is dealing with three other parties who have specifically cited the fight against corruption and graft as a precondition for forming of a coalition government of any kind with the AKP. A deputy of the Republican People’s Party (CHP) dubbed the incident as “embarrassing.”

 “That’s something to be embarrassed of. […] There is nothing to say if people who couldn’t get rid of their [probe] blemish are being awarded, while people who fight against crime in the country are imprisoned,” CHP Istanbul deputy Mahmut Tanal told reporters at a press conference on June 22.

In statement released on late June 21, the TİM made clear that officials didn’t have information beforehand on the identity of businesspersons to whom they would present awards.