Graft probe prosecutor says he was threatened by PM Erdoğan's 'envoys'

Istanbul Prosecutor Zekeriya Öz, who was leading one branch of a major ongoing corruption investigation, has said he was threatened by two high-level jurists dispatched by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, adding that the officials called on the prosecutor to apologize to the prime minister through a letter.

In a written statement that appeared in the Turkish media on Wednesday, prosecutor Öz said the officials warned him to not proceed further with the corruption probe and end it, threatening that he would otherwise face dire consequences.

Öz said he met with the officials at a hotel in the western province of Bursa.

“The people from the judiciary sent by the prime minister told me the prime minister is very angry about me. They asked me to halt the investigation and to write a letter of apology to the prime minister,” Öz said about the content of the meeting at the hotel.

In the meantime, Prime Minister Erdoğan, who is currently in Japan for an official trip, rejected the claim as slander.

On Tuesday, Öz was removed from the graft probe and has been reassigned to a position at the Bakırköy Courthouse in İstanbul.

The 1st Chamber of the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK) reached a surprise decision by reassigning the prosecutor amid the ongoing graft investigation that has prompted the resignation of three Cabinet ministers.

The board’s decision came only hours after the HSYK launched an investigation into Öz over claims that the prosecutor had taken a lavish vacation to Dubai with seven of his friends, with the bill allegedly paid by a construction company.

As claims about Öz’s alleged lavish vacation to Dubai still circulate amongst the national media, prosecutor Öz reiterated his denial, saying that a vacation to Dubai with his family amounted to only $4,250 and that he paid the bill for it himself, despite claims that the trip had cost TL 77,000 ($35,000) and was paid for by a Turkish construction company, the owner of which was taken into custody as part of the recent graft probe.

The pro-government Sabah daily ran a story on Sunday describing Öz as the prosecutor who “launched the defamation campaign against the government through a corruption investigation,” and alleged that the prosecutor had gone on an expensive vacation in Dubai with his friends. According to the daily, a construction company paid a bill of TL 77,000 ($35,000) for the trip.

Öz said in the statement that if the claim that he went abroad 22 times is proven, then he would resign from his post, but that he would expect the same thing from those who claimed otherwise if their claim turns out to be wrong.

In a meeting with journalists at his office in İstanbul’s Dolmabahçe Palace at the weekend, Erdoğan accused the prosecutor, without providing a name, of taking 22 vacations abroad in a year.

Prosecutor Öz strongly denied the claim, saying that he had never been abroad 22 times in a year.

Öz also said that he is preparing criminal complaints regarding the news circulating in the media on the claims about his Dubai visit. “I will also file criminal complaints against some people who gave the information wrongfully to the prime minister about my entrance and exits abroad,” added Öz.

On the claims that he was on a safari on Sept. 21, Öz said in the morning of Sept. 21 he was at work in İstanbul.

“I do not know how the invoices [for Öz’s vacation, as reported in Sabah] were drawn up. The dates I stayed and my plane tickets are certain. The information and credit card number in the invoice shown for food expenses in the hotel do not belong to me. The alleged safari invoice is for the day I left Dubai. Regarding food expenses, my family and I prefer to eat in more affordable places outside hotels,” said Öz, as reported by the T24 news portal on Tuesday.

According to T24, the Interior Ministry has taken back the private vehicle previously allocated for Öz’s bodyguards and will reduce the number of bodyguards protecting him, of which there are currently five. It was also reported that Öz will publish the documents, invoices and plane tickets pertaining to his Dubai vacation.

In a statement he released on Monday, Öz already denied claims that the vacation’s bill was footed by a constriction firm. Öz said he went to Dubai with his family and paid for the trip himself.

Ali Ağaoğlu, a well-known business tycoon who was released pending trial in the major graft probe, however, claimed that his firm had paid for Öz’s stay in Dubai.

In a written statement published by the Hürriyet daily, Ağaoğlu, who is among the chief suspects in the investigation into alleged bribery and tender-rigging, said his firm’s Dubai regional representative had received approval from company executives to cover the cost of Öz’s vacation.

In a swift response to Öz’s claims, PM Erdoğan responded from Japan, where he is on an official visit, calling the statement ‘libel’.