As it happens:Turkey’s graft investigation and PM Erdoğan’s response


Date posted: January 10, 2014

KERİM BALCI

Turkey is passing through interesting times. Very recently the country has been shaken by two corruption investigations involving ministers from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party). The related investigations heralded the final parting of the ways between two strong players in Turkey: the AK Party and the Hizmet movement (a faith-inspired community affiliated with the now US-based Turkish cleric Fethullah Gülen). Once allies against military tutelage and staunch secularist elite control of power centers in the country, recent events and the Turkish prime minister’s response demonstrate the differing views and positions of both sides.

Despite the apparent centrality of the recent corruption investigations to the split, the two players are in fact quite different in their understanding of politics, Islam and societal reform. While the AK Party seeks to impact through top-down politics and governance, the Hizmet movement seeks to serve and influence through grassroots projects and ideas. The rift between the two players has been growing since the last general elections in 2011. Since then, the Hizmet movement has become increasingly critical of the AK Party government on a number of fronts, including the lack of progress on the drafting of the new civil constitution and the alienating style and substance of AK Party politics. Differences became more apparent in late 2013, when the government made public its plans to close down all forms of private preparatory schools (known as dershane) for the university entrance exam. About 20 percent of the prep schools in Turkey are run by Hizmet-related companies, and many in the movement perceive this attempt as a step toward government control of civil society institutions, if not an outright attack on their community.

With the launch of the recent corruption cases, the rift became undeniable — and its portrayal in the Turkish and international media correspondingly dramatic. The current situation has left observers inside and outside the country with many questions. Kerim Balcı, editor-in-chief of Turkish Review, tries to clarify the positions of both sides and the tense dynamics currently in play in Turkey’s political atmosphere.

 

Developments on and after Dec. 17, 2013

Dec. 25 investigation of corruption

How have Erdoğan and the AK Party responded?

Have Erdoğan or the AK Party offered any proof of their conspiracy allegations?

What are Gülen’s views on the ongoing graft investigation in Turkey?

Gülen and the Hizmet movement were supportive of Erdoğan and his government. What happened?

Has the Hizmet movement infiltrated Turkey’s police and judiciary? Is the Hizmet movement a ‘parallel state’?

 

 

Developments on and after Dec. 17, 2013

  • On Dec. 17, 2013, on the orders of Chief Public Prosecutor of İstanbul Turan Çolakkadı, Turkish police rounded up over 50 suspects over three investigations reported to have begun as early as 14 months ago concerning corruption, bribery and money laundering charges. Of those questioned, at the time of writing, 24 have been formerly charged and remanded in custody by the courts.
  • Those charged include the three sons of the interior minister, the economy minister, and the minister for urban planning and development; Reza Zarrab, an Iranian-Azerbaijani businessman; Mustafa Demir, the AK Party-affiliated mayor of İstanbul’s Fatih district; Ali Ağaoğlu, businessman and construction mogul; Süleyman Aslan, general manager of Turkey’s Halkbank; and a number of other people.
  • According to an official statement from the Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office, the operation consists of three separate investigations. The first involves Ağaoğlu and other businessmen; the second, the three sons of the cabinet ministers; and the third involves Halkbank.
  • During the raids following the detentions, police found $4.5 million in cash stuffed into shoeboxes and about TL 10 million (about $5 million) also in cash in a bookshelf in Halkbank General Manager Aslan’s house. Similarly, police found a substantive amount of cash and seven steel vaults in the house of one of the ministers’ sons.
  • Barış Güler, son of Interior Minister Muammer Güler, Salih Kaan Çağlayan, son of Economy Minister Zafer Çağlayan, Reza Sarraf, Mustafa Demir and Süleyman Aslan were arrested by the court. Ali Ağaoğlu and the son of Environment and Urban Planning Minister Erdoğan Bayraktar were released by the court.
  • On Dec. 25, three cabinet ministers whose sons were linked to the investigation resigned from their offices. Economy Minister Zafer Çağlayan and Interior Minister Muammer Güler announced their resignations first. Environment and Urban Planning Minister Erdoğan Bayraktar was apparently also under pressure to resign and ultimately also relinquished his post in Parliament.
  • Late the same day Prime Minister Erdoğan announced a Cabinet reshuffle effectively ousting the fourth minister linked to the first investigations from his post. Minister for EU Affairs and Chief Negotiator Egemen Bağış was replaced by Antalya deputy Mevlut Çavuşoğlu. Apart from the four ministers linked to the corruption case, the prime minister also changed six names in the Cabinet. A surprise name was Efkan Ala, undersecretary for the Prime Ministry, who was given the top spot of the Interior Ministry.
  • On Jan. 5 pro-government Sabah daily ran a story claiming that Prosecutor Zekeriya Öz, the name behind the Dec. 17 Investigation, had gone on an expensive vacation in Dubai with friends and family in 2012, and that the trip had been financed by a Turkish construction mogul. The same day, Ali Ağaoğlu claimed that his company covered the expenses of the trip. Zekeriya Öz rejected the claims, but this didn’t prevent the 1st Chamber of the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK) from removing Öz from the Dec. 17 Investigation case and reassigning him to another inferior position at the Bakırköy Courthouse in İstanbul.
  • On Jan. 8 Zaman daily ran an online story claiming that the Dubai hotel where Öz had been accused of spending Ağaoğlu’s money, rejected the claims and denied authenticity of the invoices published by the Sabah daily.

 

 

 

Dec. 25 investigation of corruption

  • On Dec. 25, 2013, the public became aware of another investigation led by Prosecutor Muammer Akkaş when the head of the İstanbul Metropolitan Police Force refused to carry out the orders of the prosecutor (following the arrests on Dec. 17 the government had changed the head of the İstanbul Metropolitan Police Force).
  • Despite a court order on Dec. 25, at the time of writing, 41 new suspects have yet to be detained for questioning, and search orders are yet to be executed at seven premises. Instead, on Dec. 26, Prosecutor Akkaş was reassigned.
  • Since then, Akkaş has issued a short statement to the effect that his orders were not followed; that he was prevented from carrying out an investigation; that the independence of the judiciary had been violated; and that the Constitution had been breached.
  • On Jan. 6 the 1st Chamber of the HSYK decided to start an investigation into Prosecutor Akkaş, together with Chief Public Prosecutor of İstanbul Çolakkadı, who reassigned Prosecutor Akkaş and Selami Altınok, head of the İstanbul Metropolitan Police Force, for preventing police officers from cooperating with Prosecutor Akkaş.
  • On Jan. 8 Justice Minister Bekir Bozdağ said he would not grant the permission needed to launch an inquiry into Chief Prosecutor Çolakkadı and police chief Altınok.

 

How have Erdoğan and the AK Party responded?

  • As was the case during the protests of İstanbul’s Gezi Park this summer, Prime Minister Erdoğan and the AK Party government argue that these investigations are an international plot to overthrow the government orchestrated by “external” and “internal” enemies that are deeply uncomfortable with a strong and independent Turkey. By this, Erdoğan and the AK Party directly and indirectly refer to the US (Erdoğan has even implicated the US ambassador to Turkey as being the mastermind behind the investigation, adding that he did not have to keep the ambassador on Turkish soil), Israel (“the interest rate lobby”), foreign powers not wanting Turkey to resolve its Kurdish issue (“the blood lobby”), the Turkish Industrialists and Businessmen’s Association (TÜSİAD — “the big industries”), the opposition political parties, Gezi Park protestors and the Hizmet movement — with the latter being the domestic pawn carrying out these plots on behalf of the above domestic and overseas parties.
  • AK Party deputies (Şamil Tayyar, Metin Metiner, etc.) and pro-government papers have suggested that those sympathetic to Hizmet have infiltrated the top levels of Turkey’s state structure and are orchestrating this plot on behalf of the country’s national and international enemies. Erdoğan and members of his government have publicly declared their intent to “crush” and “break” the movement by entering “its dens.”
  • Here are some of the terms used by Erdoğan in recent weeks in relation to the ongoing graft investigations: “a coalition between outsider and insider enemies,” “dirty coalition,” “international masterminds,” “parallel state,” “pawn of international networks,” “traitors,” “global assassination attempt,” “breaking of hands,” “entering their dens,” “crushing them,” “second war of independence,” “dirty international media,” “blood lobby,” “no surrender.”
  • The government has taken a number of steps, too many to list here. The following are the most pertinent to the ongoing investigation.
    • Within 24 hours of the investigation going public, 24 police chiefs were reassigned, including all the police chiefs leading the investigations on behalf of the public prosecution service. These actions were taken by the interior minister whose son has been charged and is currently on remand pending trial.
    • Following this, an additional 1,000 police officers of varying ranks around the country were reassigned. Those re-assigned are largely those of the “organized crime division,” which is responsible for investigating, among other things, corruption, bribery and money laundering activities. These actions were also taken by then Interior Minister Güler.
    • Hüseyin Çapkın, Head of the İstanbul Metropolitan Police Force, was removed from his post and replaced by the mayor of Aksaray, who has no policing experience whatsoever. Appointing someone from outside the police force to head the largest police force in the country is an unprecedented step. This action was also taken by then Interior Minister Güler.
    • An important bylaw was passed stating that the police are obliged to inform their superior officers of ongoing investigations carried out on behalf of the public prosecution services. (Meaning, for example that the interior minister would be informed by the police services that his/her son was being investigated by the police on behalf of the prosecution services.)
    • Then-Justice Minister Sadullah Ergin and Istanbul Chief Prosecutor Çolakkadı met twice following the detentions and while the investigations were ongoing.
    • Two additional prosecutors were appointed to these cases — despite no request from the existing prosecutors — and a directive issued stating that decisions could be arrived at by a two-vote majority. (That said, the prosecutors unanimously agreed to formally charge suspects.)
    • Other steps have also been taken to reassign officials involved in state auditing and in the state media.

 

Have Erdoğan or the AK Party offered any proof of their conspiracy allegations?

  • Erdoğan and the AK Party have not produced any form of evidence to justify their conspiracy allegations. Instead they have put forth a number of arguments:

Argument 1: The investigating police did not inform their superiors of their investigation

  • The government argued very strongly that the fact that the investigating police units did not inform their superiors within the police force for the past 14/15 months of the ongoing investigations was proof that these investigations were not genuine but part of an international plot to topple the government.
  • However, according to Section 164(2) of the 2004 code on Criminal Procedure (CMK) and the relevant bylaw of 2005, police officers and police units are only answerable to the public prosecution service when investigating on their behalf. A police officer or unit cannot inform its superior within the police force of an ongoing investigation it is undertaking on behalf of the public prosecution service. The police cannot divulge any information whatsoever — even of the very existence of the investigation. Only the investigating prosecutor (not even the chief prosecutor) can decide who should be informed, when and how. Contravening this would be unlawful and could lead to prosecution.
  • This law was passed by the AK Party government to bring it into line with EU laws and to prevent sensitive investigations from being compromised through leaks.
  • Despite its rhetoric to the contrary, the government has tacitly acknowledged that there was no wrongdoing on the part of the police as it reassigned (not dismissed) officers and speedily amended the relevant bylaw of 2005. By doing so, it indirectly acknowledged that police officers could not lawfully inform their superiors within the force while the law remained as it did at the time.
  • The amendment meant that any investigation will now be shared by the investigating police unit with its superiors, which in turn will eventually be shared with the Interior Ministry.
  • However, the Supreme Court of Appeal (Danıştay) has since revoked this amendment on the grounds that it is unlawful and contravenes the secrecy and independence of judicial enquiry and due process.

Argument 2: Three separate investigations were launched at the same time to undermine the government

  • On Dec. 17 the police took in several people for questioning and carried out searches at a number of premises. As far as can be seen, these actions were related to three separate investigations. The government claims that the fact that the detentions and search warrants were carried out on the same day is proof that the investigations are not genuine but were executed in this manner to maximize impact.
  • It is impossible to know the exact reasoning of the prosecutors for deciding to carry out these detentions and exercise these search warrants on the same day, as they are barred from commenting to the press while carrying out an investigation. However, many commentators have suggested that the prosecutors acted in this way fearing that if they launched one investigation first, the government might react and try to suppress the other investigations before vital evidence could be collected and the relevant suspects questioned.
  • Steps taken by the government since Dec. 17 would appear to support this reasoning. Note that on Dec. 25 a second phase in the graft investigation run by Prosecutor Muammer Akkaş was blocked. Despite a court order, 41 new suspects are yet to be detained for questioning and search orders are yet to be carried out at seven premises. The police are yet to execute these orders. Instead, on Dec. 26, Akkaş was removed from the investigation.

Argument 3: The timing of the detentions and search warrants (three months prior to local elections) proves that these investigations are not genuine but seek to damage the AK Party at the polls

  • On March 30 Turkey will go to local elections. If no change is made to their dates the presidential election will take place on the last day of August 2014, and general elections on June 14, 2015.
  • Based on leaked evidence, it is alleged that the prosecutors decided to launch the detentions and search warrants at the time that they did because they had heard the suspects had got wind of the investigations and had started to destroy vital evidence.

What are Gülen’s views on the ongoing graft investigation in Turkey?

  • Gülen has stated that such investigations can take place in any country and that the government should cooperate with the judiciary to assist the judicial process.
  • Gülen and the Journalists and Writers Foundation (GYV), of which he is the honorary chairperson, denied any involvement with the ongoing investigations. Furthermore, they invited state authorities to prove those allegations, and take legal action if any evidence is found substantiating them through due process — not by undermining the institutions and processes charged with investigating such claims and allegations as they claim the government is doing. Gülen’s lawyer condemned and rejected the allegations as an attempt to divert public attention away from a massive bribery scandal and defame his client.
  • A number of commentators close to the movement have pointed out that the investigations date back at least 14/15 months and therefore cannot have any bearing on the government’s recent decision to close down university prep schools (a decision the movement strongly opposes).
  • Gülen states that the premier’s attempts at pinning the investigation on an international conspiracy, of which the movement is allegedly the domestic partner, and the reassigning of hundreds of innocent people to different posts, is an attempt to misdirect the public’s attention away from the real issue and constitutes interference with an ongoing investigation.
  • While denying that he has anything to do with these investigations, Gülen has also pointed out that these police officers and police chiefs have been changed and reassigned many times over already. Gülen also invoked “God’s curse” on himself and those rightly or wrongly associated with him if they have acted in contravention of  Islam, modern law and democracy. In addition, if some people are trying to cover up their corruption by blaming innocent people, then God’s curse be upon them. This form of prayer is called mulaane or mubahale in Islam. It is based on the Qur’an and Sunnah and is undertaken when two parties make diametrically opposing claims and reach a deadlock in resolving an issue. It is a two-way conditional prayer.

 

Gülen and the Hizmet movement were supportive of Erdoğan and his government. What happened?

  • Gülen is on record as expressing his support for democracy, the non-instrumentalization of religion in politics, the rule of law, human rights, freedom of religion and belief, the rule of law, equality and celebration of diversity, consultative and inclusive decision- making, meritocracy and accountability, a strong vibrant resilient and compassionate civil society.
  • The GYV has issued various press releases reiterating the movement’s position on democracy, the rule of law, press freedom, politics and supporting a particular party or political candidate.
  • Gülen and the Hizmet movement gave full support to the demilitarization of Turkish politics. In particular the Ergenekon and Sledgehammer (Balyoz) cases received support from Hizmet-related media. Both cases ended in the punishment of ex-army personnel and civilians linked to coup plots against the AK Party government. The decisions of the Turkish courts were applauded by the EU as positive steps toward democratization and prevention of military intervention into politics.
  • Prosecutor Zekeriya Öz, the prosecutor who launched the first corruption case on Dec. 17,was presiding over the Ergenekon case and was also lauded by AK Party supporters at the time of the coup case.
  • Gülen and the Hizmet movement supported those policies of Erdoğan and the government that furthered democracy, the rule of law, human rights, equality, EU accession, respect and freedom for diversity and pluralism. Polices that strengthened civil society, removed non-democratic tutelage, provided greater freedom to religious minorities and sought to resolve Turkey’s long-lasting internal and external problems. The reason Gülen and the movement no longer support Erdoğan and his policies is because they no longer seek to achieve the above.
  • Erdoğan has adopted an increasingly authoritarian style of governance in recent years. Rather than reforming constitutional bodies and structures that are deeply undemocratic and possess far too much power over any elected government, he has sought to maintain and govern through them. He has strengthened state power at the expense of civil society and is more inclined towards the Shanghai Cooperation than the EU. What is more, he is increasingly showing signs of readopting the “political Islam” he had rejected when founding the AK Party.
  • The following are some examples between 2010 and today demonstrating this change of direction: slowing down of EU negotiations, the Uludere incident (a military airstrike in which dozens of civilians were killed), the rhetoric developed during the Gezi Park protests and the attempt to ban prep schools.
  • The final rift came when Prime Minister Erdoğan started claiming that Hizmet has infiltrated the state apparatus and formed a “parallel state” plotting the recent corruption cases against his party, and that Hizmet was working as a domestic arm of foreign powers who did not want Turkey to become a global player.

 

Has the Hizmet movement infiltrated Turkey’s police and judiciary? Is the Hizmet movement a ‘parallel state’?

  • These allegations have been made about Gülen and Hizmet before. Gülen was tried and acquitted by Turkey’s staunchly secular courts in the 1980s and 1990s — that is prior to the birth of the AK Party. Most recently, in 2006, Gülen was acquitted of such allegations after a six-year trial. The prosecutors appealed this decision but the Court of Appeal upheld Gülen’s acquittal in 2008.
  • Furthermore, from the 1990s onward the movement has been active outside of Turkey. Today the movement is active in over 150 different in a range of fields, primarily education and interfaith dialogue.
  • Gülen encourages Muslims to take part in every part of society and not to be con­fined to conventional roles and jobs. He encourages practicing Muslims to work in all sectors and industries, including the civil service, police, judiciary, media, military and academia — in the past these were sectors knowingly avoided by and closed to observant Muslims in Turkey. A learned estimate suggests that 8 percent of the Turkish population regard themselves as Hizmet affiliated. With such a huge support base, it is inevitable that more and more observant Muslims should be taking up such positions.
  • Gülen’s teachings have helped remove the cultural and religious dogma that previously prevented pious Muslims from being proactively engaged in society and working in the public sector. As a consequence many practicing Turkish Muslims now work in the police force and other pub­lic services. The question is not be whether there are practicing Muslims inspired by Gülen working in the police force, but why such people were discouraged from such jobs and positions — be it in the police force or other public sectors — in the past.
  • If the assertion is that members of the police force who are inspired by Gülen are somehow engaged in improper activities (i.e. that they act in the best interest of Gülen and/or Hizmet as opposed to the rule of law and proper procedure) then this is not only illegal it is also contrary to Gülen’s teachings. If there is any wrongdoing of this or any other type such people should be tried according to due process. This cannot be achieved by undermining the judicial institutions and processes required to investigate such claims.
  • Gülen is on record stating that anyone acting contrary to the law should be investigated and tried; he has stated many times before that if there are any groups within the police force or any other public body acting contrary to the law and even the code of conduct, that these people should be investigated and if found guilty, punished according to the letter of the law.

 

Source: Turkish Review , January 10, 2014


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