Turkey's graft probe prosecutors removed along with 115 others in a massive purge

Turkey’s government speeds up the moves to intervene in the judiciary, in a new series of administrative moves suspected to establish blockage to the proceedings of the graft probes.

Here is a wrap-up fo today’s developments:

Prosecutors Celal Kara and Mehmet Yüzgeç were leading the corruption probe that erupted on Dec. 17 until they were removed from their posts on Wednesday, seemingly as part of the government’s efforts to block the probe, which also involves four former ministers of the cabinet.

Kara has reportedly been reassigned to İstanbul 45th Criminal Court of First Instance and Yüzgeç was sent to the İstanbul 1st Juvenile High Criminal Court. The two prosecutors had been conducting the graft probe for about a year and a half and were removed just days before the indictment was to be drawn up.

It was claimed that the two prosecutors’ reassignment came only a day after Yüzgeç issued a summons for two leading businesspeople, M.A.A. and M.N.Z., to give statements about the corruption investigation to the prosecutor’s office. Kara and Yüzgeç, who were informed about their removal by e-mail, were removed from the investigation on the decision of Hadi Salihoğlu, the newly appointed İstanbul chief prosecutor.

It appears that the chief prosecutor dismantled a whole unit of İstanbul’s Prosecutor’s Office in charge of investigating crimes committed by civil servants in an effort to give the impression that the move concerned more than just the two prosecutors in charge of the graft investigation.

ImagePurged prosecutors

When the corruption investigation, in which 24 people including two sons of two of the four involved ministers were arrested, became public on Dec. 17, 2013, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan sought to discredit the investigation by calling it a “foreign plot” and an “attempt to damage the government made by a parallel state nested within the state.”

Since the launch of the graft probe, the government has reportedly replaced around 5,000 people in the police force, including dozens of high-level officers and a number of police chiefs in various provinces, mainly in İstanbul, Ankara and İzmir, some of whom were directly involved in the carrying out of the probe.

Prosecutors have also become victims of the government, which seems to be determined to cover up corruption in the government and to prevent other potential corruption investigations from being launched. Around 20 prosecutors so far, some of whom were conducting the graft probe, have been removed from their posts and appointed to other posts.

In the first week of January, Zekeriya Öz, a prosecutor leading the graft probe at the time, was reassigned to another position at the Bakırköy Courthouse in İstanbul. In a more recent move in mid-January, nearly 20 other İstanbul prosecutors were reassigned to posts in other cities, while Justice Minister Bekir Bozdağ has granted the necessary permission to launch an inquiry into three prosecutors involved in a far-reaching investigation into a corruption case. The reports about the removal of prosecutors in mid-January came shortly after Bozdağ granted permission to launch an inquiry into the three prosecutors.

Right from the start, the government did its best to block the graft probe, even if it meant violation of the Constitution. A day or so after the initial graft investigation on Dec. 17, İstanbul Chief Public Prosecutor Turan Çolakkadı, who is one of those prosecutors reassigned to another post mid-month added two additional prosecutors to the ongoing corruption probe seemingly upon instructions from the government, which opposition parties maintained was a move to water down and impede the investigation.

Opposition parties accusing the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) of staging a civilian coup by interfering with the judiciary in an effort to block the ongoing investigation and thereby violating the Constitution, as well as Cemil Çiçek, Parliament speaker and AK Party member, have expressed criticism towards the ruling party’s interference in the judiciary.

In a get-together with members of the media at the beginning of the month, Çiçek said, referring to Article 138 of the Constitution, which deals with judicial independence, that the judiciary is currently over and done with, implying that the principle of the separation of powers, a sine qua non for a democratic system, has been violated. “Article 138 of the Constitution has become extinct in this country,” Çiçek said.

Noting that the law is an instrument of justice and not of politics, Çiçek, who is also a deputy from the ruling AK Party, jokingly said in reference to Article 138, “We might as well get rid of the article!”

Following the corruption investigation that rocked the government at the end of last year, opposition parties lashed out at the government for interfering in the progress of the first investigation and for blocking a second one which prosecutors wanted to launch and which allegedly also implicates Bilal Erdoğan, the son of Prime Minister Erdoğan. Bilal Erdoğan, despite the prosecutor’s demand for him to give a statement at a prosecutor’s office regarding corruption he is allegedly involved in, did not comply. Bilal Erdoğan’s lawyer only recently announced that the prime minister’s son was ready to appear before prosecutors, a statement which came only after the former prosecutor who had issued the summons was reassigned.

Technical bureau formed to control courthouse wiretaps

Meanwhile, a new sub-directorate of public prosecution named the Technical Bureau was formed within the İstanbul Courthouse. It is responsible for all wiretapping and audio surveillance within in the courthouse.

Deputy Director of Public Prosecution Orhan Kapıcı was appointed to head the bureau. Kapıcı will send information requested by the courts on demand.

According to the summary of proceedings previously sent by prosecutors in charge of the graft investigation, Reza Zarrab, an Iranian businessman of Azeri origin, is alleged to have bribed former Economy Minister Zafer Çağlayan with a total of $52 million on 28 different occasions, that he gave former Interior Minister Muammer Güler a total of $10 million on 10 occasions and that former EU Affairs Minister Egemen Bağış received a total of $1.5 million in bribes on three separate occasions. The sons of Çağlayan and Güler, who are currently under arrest as part of the probe, are also accused of receiving bribes from Zarrab.

Ministry of Justice returns document on Bozdağ

A document prepared by the İzmir Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office accusing Justice Minister Bekir Bozdağ of attempting to influence the judiciary was returned by the Ministry of Justice on Wednesday on the grounds that it is not in accordance with regular procedure and that the section regarding the minister had not been removed from the document.

The prosecutor’s office had sent a document to the Ministry of Justice accusing Justice Minister Bozdağ of attempting to influence the judiciary after a prosecutor leading an investigation into allegations of corruption and organized crime said that a high-level Ministry of Justice official had called him and pressured him to halt the

The document, a summary of proceedings prepared on Jan. 14, was sent to the ministry to be later submitted to Parliament, as Bozdağ, a deputy and a minister, enjoys legislative immunity.

The document claims that Bozdağ instructed Kenan İpek, undersecretary of the Justice Ministry, to tell İzmir Chief Public Prosecutor Hüseyin Baş to stop the probe and replace the prosecutor leading it.