Erdoğan’s house of cards

Abdullah Bozkurt
Abdullah Bozkurt

Date posted: January 6, 2014


Embattled Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s last play before his house of cards, built around imaginary enemies at home and abroad, comes tumbling down on his government, is the lawsuits of harassment he will likely unleash, using and perhaps abusing state powers entrusted to him by the electorate. Faced with a series of legal challenges stemming from corruption, money laundering, influence-peddling, tender-rigging, organized crime and intimidation — some of which seem to be supported by formidable evidence collected by prosecutors for over a year  — Erdoğan will look for a way out by launching frivolous cases loaded with petty charges.

He has already been working at building up a prime suspect with the brush strokes made in his public speeches and rallies: an unidentified “gang” nested in the police and judiciary, acting in collaboration with foreign enemies of Turkey to topple his government and harm Turkish national interests. His not-so-subtle descriptions clearly indicate that he’d like to portray well-respected Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen as the man behind the curtain who allegedly pulls all kinds of strings to weaken Erdoğan’s rule in Turkey. In other words, he picked Gülen to create a scapegoat for his own troubles as well as to create a major distraction in public opinion. A relentless negative campaign in the pro-Erdoğan media against Gülen and the Gülen-inspired Hizmet movement was just a precursor to Erdoğan’s next move, i.e., slapping a group of government employees, whose only “crime” is following the laws and rules to battle against corruption, with unfounded lawsuits.

Certainly, this is not an unexpected move, given its precedents in the notorious past of the Turkish Republic. When the coup-loving generals were caught red-handed with their sinister plots hatched to wreak havoc in Turkey so that a military junta could take over the civilian government, they tried to derail the investigations and trials with an attempt to launch their own legal complaints against police officers and prosecutors who had been involved in gathering a massive amount of evidence against them. Col. Dursun Çiçek, whose signature was on the secret action plan to topple the government and clamp down on the Hizmet movement, was planning to file a complaint against prosecutors and police on charges of “military espionage” and was hoping the military justice system would take over the case.

Retired lieutenant and now-lawyer Serdar Öztürk, one of the key suspects in the Ergenekon case, who has been sentenced to 25 years in prison, also revealed similar plans when being cross-examined in court, as he said he was planning to file espionage charges against lead prosecutor Zekeriya Öz and the police chiefs involved in the investigation. His plans were foiled, however, when police discovered a 109-page confidential memo sent to then-Chief of General Staff Gen. İlker Başbuğ, asking him to prepare new action plans, including a move to ensure that military prosecutors would launch cases against the Ergenekon judges and prosecutors.

Therefore, a similar template can be used by Erdoğan, as well. Just as the junta wanted to circumvent the system through parallel and obscure military justice, Erdoğan is likely to use the National Intelligence Organization (MİT), headed by his close confidante, Hakan Fidan, to build up this baseless lawsuit related to espionage and treachery claims. This plan was bolstered, in an unprecedented move, when Erdoğan reassigned hundreds of police officers – many of whom are senior chiefs — without any justification whatsoever to intimidate the police force and make sure his plans to go after the Hizmet movement would not be sabotaged by fresh evidence unearthed by the police. He even ordered the Finance Ministry to reshuffle almost all senior officials, not only to silence the financial crime investigators at key watchdog agency the Financial Crimes Investigation Board (MASAK), but also to bring new foot soldiers into the revenue administration in order to go after companies that are not loyal to his absolute rule.

Well, can Erdoğan’s last stand help save him from legal troubles? Unlikely. The charges we will probably see if and when Erdoğan decides to file a case against the Hizmet movement will be petty charges which should not constitute a crime in a democratic country anyway. People can subscribe to different ideologies, values and belief systems, and the government has no role in that whatsoever. Public employees can only be judged based on laws and rules, not because of their beliefs, race or ethnicity. In a long statement, the Journalists and Writers Foundation (GYV), whose honorary chair is Gülen, has called on the government to submit whatever evidence it has on conspiracies, such as those involving a “deep state” and “parallel structures” as well as accusations of “treason,” “espionage” and “collaboration with international powers” against the interests of Turkey. In other words, Gülen is standing firm and not blinking in the face of Erdoğan’s preposterous threats.

What is more, Gülen has the benefit of double jeopardy, as he was acquitted of similar charges before, even under the military-dominated, not very democratic or transparent justice system. Erdoğan probably knows he cannot get a conviction in the court based on shallow evidence. But hauling a few people into court may buy him enough time to survive through the elections and help bolster the image of an enemy conducting subversive activities in Turkey. That is why his campaign people have been throwing everything they have at the problem by bringing the other usual suspects, such as the US, the European Union, Israel, the Gulf countries, minorities, wealthy families, business groups and the media into the controversial debate. As bizarre as it sounds, Erdoğan’s aides think that by lumping all these disparate groups and people together, their case will somehow grow stronger. In fact, Erdoğan is inadvertently extending the front-line and triggering further pressure from abroad while inviting more resentment from additional groups in Turkey.

The prime minister’s constant bashing of the press with slanderous accusations that national media professionals are working on behalf of global imperialist powers, when in fact they have just been trying to do their best under the circumstances to provide coverage on important issues such as the corruption investigation, has now become a major concern for us. A demonization campaign in the pro-government media and social media by Erdoğan’s trolls amounts to intimidation and open harassment. Even writing in an English-language daily or tweeting in English is enough for these people to conclude that you are working for foreign powers. If you chat with a foreign diplomat in Ankara over lunch, that will itself be enough for some of these people to label you a “traitor” who is selling the country’s deepest secrets. Unfortunately, Erdoğan’s harsh rhetoric has fuelled such paranoia in Turkish society that each and every critic of the government must be part of a clandestine campaign to undermine the Turkish state. Based on extremely dubious evidence, it would not be any surprise to see a case involving media professionals who have only exercised their right to freedom of speech.

Nonetheless, all these attempts are doomed to fail. Against the expected baseless lawsuits from Erdoğan’s government, there are two formidable investigations going on in Turkey involving major corruption and money laundering schemes. Judging from the evidence leaked so far, there seems to be overwhelming proof implicating very senior people in the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and close relatives of Erdoğan. Considering the comments from the recently resigned minister of Environment and Urban Planning, Erdoğan is personally involved in authorizing what prosecutors have described as a crime. The government has slowed down the first investigation and stalled the second one, but it will not be able to dismiss either of these cases, given that there is compelling evidence in the files.

What’s more, there is now an international link to these two cases, because they involve Iranian nationals and third countries, as money had to be moved from one place to another. Perhaps more evidence will emerge soon, leading to new cases that will land the Erdoğan government in even hotter water. Then, having overplayed his hand, Erdoğan will run out of options, and he will have no choice but to watch the collapse of his house of cards.    o accept payouts and leave the country.

Source: Today's Zaman , January 6, 2014

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