Media dimension in graft probe: CHP asks parliament Erdoğan on alleged bribery in Sabah-ATV sale

Voice recordings circulating on social media — allegedly of conversations between Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, his son Bilal, certain ministers and businessmen discussing bribery in the sale of the Turkuvaz Media Group — were brought to the agenda of the Turkish Parliament on Friday.

Main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) Deputy Chairman Umut Oran submitted a parliamentary question about the claims in the recordings, as Today’s Zaman reports.

The media is prohibited from running stories on allegations in a second corruption probe that has been stalled since Dec. 25, 2013, when the İstanbul Police Department refused to carry out a prosecutor’s order to detain a new group of suspects. After the government’s reshuffled the first chamber of the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK), the HSYK removed all of the prosecutors that launched the investigation.

“Is your coordinator in the Sabah-ATV sale Binali Yıldırım? Did you assign Bilal Erdoğan to the process?” Oran asked Erdoğan. Binali Yıldırım is the former minister of transportation, maritime affairs and communications and is now running for İzmir mayor for the Justice and Development Party (AK Party).

The inquiry included serious allegations, in question form. Oran asked if Yıldırım, on Erdoğan’s behalf, had asked for a total of $450 million in bribes from a group of businessmen known to be close to the government for the acquisition of the Turkuaz Media Group, which includes mainstream newspaper Sabah and the ATV channel, among many other outlets. The CHP’s question asked whether Mehmet Cengiz, the owner of construction company Cengiz İnşaat — whose tax debt of TL 424.4 million Oran said had been cleared through reconciliation — contributed $100 million to a pool created for the purchase of the media group. Oran also named the other businessmen mentioned in the voice recordings. He asked whether Yıldırım had collected $100 million from Nihat Özdemir, $100 million from Naci and Celal Koloğlu, $100 million from İbrahim Çeçen, $30 million from Adnan Çebi and $20 million from Hayrettin and Nuri Özaltın.

“Did you give verbal instructions for the purchase of these media organs during a meeting with Cengiz Koloğlu on July 21, 2013 in your home by saying, ‘We are in trouble, this job needs to be sorted out?’” He also asked if Binali Yıldırım, who was a minister then, had instructed İbrahim Çeçen and Mehmet Cengiz on Aug. 21, 2013, as per the prime minister’s order, to contribute money for the purchase of Turkuvaz Media Group by Cengiz, Kolin, Limak (some of the companies of the above-mentioned businessmen).

He also asked if they had promised public tenders to the businessmen in return for their contributions.

Oran also asked whether public banks lent the businessmen the money they needed to pay their pledges — millions of dollars — for the purchase of the media outlets. “Was a portion of the cash needed by the owners of the companies Cengiz, Kolin and Limak, from whom a total of $300 million was requested, paid by Ziraat Bankası in October of 2013 with the involvement of Binali Yıldırım, as per your instructions?” Oran asked.

Claims of fraud and malpractice have been circulating on social media channels like Twitter and Facebook as well as video and audio hosting sites for some time, but the mainstream Turkish press has been avoiding taking the bull by the horns, fearing the methods the government has used to silence criticisms so far.

In his parliamentary question, Oran asked if Celal Koloğlu had fainted when he heard the amount Erdoğan was asking from him, and if Mehmet Cengiz then gave him three pills to medicate his blood pressure. He also asked if, when Cengiz’s reaction was conveyed to Erdoğan, the prime minister declined to make any discount in the amount in the project dubbed “Project Makkah.” Oran also asked if Bilal Erdoğan had been assigned to follow up on the transactions involved.

An unidentified Twitter user, Haramzadeler, has been publishing the voice recordings on the Internet. According to one of the recordings, Turkuvaz Media Group was officially acquired by Zirve Holding. “Zirve Holding was registered in the İstanbul Chamber of Commerce [İTO] on Aug. 23, 2013. The chairman of the company, which has TL 380 million in capital, seems to be Ömer Faruk Kalyoncu in the İTO registries. Everyone knows that Kalyoncu can’t acquire Turkuvaz Media Group with such little capital,” Haramzadeler wrote in his Twitter messages.

Oran also asked how Zirve Holding was able to purchase Turkuvaz Media Group, which Çalık Holding had acquired for $1.1 billion in 2008. Oran asked Erdoğan to clarify his stance on the allegations. “Why haven’t these allegations been refuted?” he asked.

Haramzadeler had made claims about some of the tenders the government promised to grant to these companies, including the tenders for the İstanbul-Ankara High-Speed Train Project, the Vezirhan-İnönü tunnel and the construction of İstanbul’s third airport. Oran’s inquiry didn’t mention them.

Kadir Gökmen Öğüt, a deputy from the CHP, also asked a parliamentary question on Thursday regarding claims that 57,000 square meters of public land had been allocated to the Foundation of Youth and Education in Turkey (TÜRGEV). According to the CHP İstanbul deputy, the Ministry of Finance owns a 120,000 square meter plot in the Tuzla district of İstanbul, and there are rumors that some 57,000 square meters of that land was recently allocated to TÜRGEV. In parliamentary question, Öğüt asked if the rumors were true; if so, the deputy asked the prime minister to explain how the land was allocated to the foundation. Erdoğan’s son Bilal is a board member for TÜRGEV.