Ertuğrul Günay, who resigned from the AKP in a protest against Erdoğan’s way of dealing with the massive graft probe, said today that it was a ‘Scandal that I had never seen in my life, that a minister superior to the security apparatus (Interior Minister) who himself is subjected to a probe, allegations and a motion to lift his immunity remove and demote police officers who pursue them case.’ He added that in his memory of 25 years in politics he had never seen such a scandal, which he called ‘unprecedented’. (CHA)
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who is also the head of the AK Party, called the corruption investigation a “dirty operation” against the government and Turkey and claimed that the probe — which many are saying is unprecedented in the history of the republic — was orchestrated by a “parallel state” and a “gang within the state,” in a veiled reference to the Hizmet movement inspired by Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen. Gülen has accused the government of trying to derail the corruption investigation. The prime minister also said “foreign powers” were involved in the operation.
On Dec. 17, İstanbul and Ankara police staged dawn raids and detained over 50 people in the corruption investigation. Among the detainees were officials, well-known businesspeople and the sons of three ministers. Allegations emerged that several ministers were involved in bribery.
The sons of the two ministers as well as over 20 other suspects have been arrested. The suspects stand accused of rigging state tenders, accepting and facilitating bribes for major urbanization projects, obtaining construction permits for protected areas in exchange for money, helping foreigners obtain Turkish citizenship with falsified documents and involvement in export fraud, forgery and gold smuggling. Some claim that the suspects illegally sold historic artifacts unearthed during the construction of the Marmaray rail project connecting the European and Asian sides of İstanbul.
Three ministers — Interior Minister Muammer Güler, Economy Minister Zafer Çağlayan and Environment and Urban Planning Minister Erdoğan Bayraktar — resigned from their posts on Dec. 25 while denying any involvement in corruption or bribery.
Even after the resignations, the prime minister called the corruption operation an “international plot,” supported by local collaborators, to sow discord in Turkey. He also accused an international “interest-rate lobby” of being behind the operation, which he said had already cost Turkey some $20 billion. In addition, the prime minister claimed that his government is as “clean as the color of the milk” in an attempt to dismiss the accusations leveled against his government.
According to Professor Mehmet Altan, an academic and writer, the AK Party resorts to demagogy and sanctimonious, tawdry rhetoric instead of addressing the corruption claims. “This is a very cheap and worthless method. … This method seeks to exploit the nationalist and conservative sentiments of the people,” he told Sunday’s Zaman.
The professor also said the AK Party claims that “foreign powers,” “a parallel state” and “gangs nested within the state” are behind the corruption and bribery investigation, attempting to distract the people from the matter. “The prime minister is seeking to influence Turkish public opinion with imaginary scenarios and to distract the people’s attention from the corruption investigation. The prime minister, in this way, hopes to prevent the investigation from expanding and reaching him.”
Retired military judge Ümit Kardaş said repeatedly claiming that foreign powers are to blame whenever anything goes wrong in the country diminishes the government’s credibility in the eyes of the people. “If you attempt to put the entire blame for corruption or fraud on a plot, on foreign powers, on gangs or a parallel state, the people won’t believe it. … There is an ongoing investigation into claims that many people, including members of the government, were involved in corruption. And it is not possible to save the government by just putting the blame on others. When the government reiterates its claims of a plot behind the operation, it grows less convincing,” he said.
Altan added that this is not the first time the prime minister has sought to shift people’s attention from troublesome events that rocked the country. He said Erdoğan did the same thing during the Gezi protests.
The Gezi Park protests began as a peaceful sit-in against a government plan to replace a park in İstanbul’s Taksim Square with a replica of an Ottoman-era military barracks. The movement later erupted into violent clashes with police and spread across the country. The rallies brought together large groups of protesters who accused Erdoğan of increasing authoritarian tendencies and attempting to impose his religious and conservative values on a country governed by secular laws.
The protests drew the ire of the prime minister, who took a challenging, aggressive and insulting tone when he addressed the protesters, which exacerbated already high tensions in the country. The prime minister described the protesters as “a couple of looters,” saying, “I wouldn’t ask a couple of looters for permission [to go ahead with the Taksim project.]” Seemingly out of anger and a desire to show his determination to go ahead with his plan to build the replica, Erdoğan defied the protestors, saying, “When in the world have servants become masters?”
In addition, in an attempt to discredit the protests, the prime minister said an “interest-rate lobby” and “international conspiracy groups” were behind the events. He accused these mysterious entities of speculating in the financial markets during the protests. He also claimed that some banks, which he didn’t name, were trying to bring down the stock exchange. The prime minister tried everything except for self-reflection on whether he was right to turn a deaf ear to the protesters’ demands.
Hüseyin Öngel, a member of the Grand Unity Party’s (BBP) Central Decision and Administration Board (MKYK), said the prime minister was seeking to blame others instead of encouraging a sound and impartial investigation of the corruption claims. “The prime minister puts the blame on others by claiming that the corruption operation is a plot against his government and he also continues to take steps that are aimed at impeding the investigation,” he complained.
Öngel was referring to the government’s response to the corruption investigation. Some 500 police officers who had been ordered by the İstanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office to conduct the probe were removed from their posts immediately after the first round of detentions and two new prosecutors were appointed to the investigation. The removals and the new appointments led legal experts to argue that the government is trying to stall the investigation.
Furthermore, the government changed a regulation to require police officers to inform their superiors of all investigations. Jurists described the change as a violation of the law and the Constitution, and said the change will allow the government to monitor any investigation ordered by prosecutors.