Watchmaker questions authenticity of bill shown by ex-minister during graft session

Watchmaker questions authenticity of bill shown by ex-minister during graft session

Watchmaker questions authenticity of bill shown by ex-minister during graft session

Former Economy Minister Zafer Çağlayan shows some documents as he speaks at the Parliament during a debate on corruption charges against four cabinet ministers in Ankara, May 5. AP Photo

An official from Swiss watch manufacturer Patek Philippe, which contradicted former Economy Minister Zafer Çağlayan’s statements regarding one of its watches that came under scrutiny as part of a large graft probe, has questioned the authenticity of the bill shown by the minister during his defense at Parliament. In a statement to daily Aydınlık, Bernard Ruf reportedly said the bill looked “strange.”

Çağlayan is accused of being bribed by Reza Zarrab, an Iranian-Azeri businessman who has emerged as the main suspect in the high-profile investigation, with a customized watch worth 700,000 Turkish Liras (around $300,000). But the former minister said he paid for the entire sum himself even though the bill was not in his name.

“Zarrab bought the watch, but I paid for it. The guarantee certificate is in my name,” Çağlayan told deputies during a critical session on graft allegations May 5, while showing a document he referred as the watch’s bill.

After stating that the guarantee certificate could not bear Çağlayan’s name as no personal information was ever specified on such documents, Bernard Ruf of Patek Philippe said in new statements to daily Aydınlık that the document shown in Parliament did not resemble its standard bills. 

"Das ist komisch" (This is strange), Ruf reportedly said to daily Aydınlık.

Ruf said the numbering system on the alleged bill was not the one used by Patek Philippe, adding that it could not belong to the company.

Recordings further incriminate Zarrab

Meanwhile, new voice recordings were allegedly released May 8 between Zarrab and the representative of an intermediary firm regarding the acquisition of the watch.

According to daily Radikal, Zarrab tells his interlocutor that he will make the payments and not the minister. “Send [the number of the account] not to Mr. Çağlayan’s e-mail address but to mine. I am buying the watch, not Mr. Çağlayan,” Zarrab is quoted as saying, according to daily Radikal.

The disclosed phone traffic also shows that Zarrab was fully implicated in the process until the watch was delivered to Çağlayan’s bodyguards by one of his affiliates.

Çağlayan and the other three ex-ministers targeted by corruption claims – former Interior Minister Muammer Güler, former Environment and Urban Planning Minister Erdoğan Bayraktar and former EU Minister Egemen Bağış – have denied any wrongdoing, blaming a plot against the government.

The Parliament eventually voted to establish an inquiry commission following the marathon session on May 5.