Turkey police detain ministers’ sons in bribery probe

Turkish police detained more than 20 people including the sons of three cabinet ministers and several high-profile businessmen

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Turkish police detained more than 20 people including the sons of three cabinet ministers and several high-profile businessmen on Tuesday in a probe into alleged bribery and corruption, local media reported.

Istanbul governor Huseyin Avni Mutlu confirmed the raids but declined to comment on the details.

“There is an ongoing operation,” he told reporters. “It would not be accurate to make a statement while the investigation is under way.”

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), which boasts of being pro-business, has pledged to root out corruption, a chronic problem in Turkey.

But some political observers speculated that the raids stemmed from simmering tensions between Erdogan’s Islamic-rooted government and an influential Muslim cleric which have burst out into the open ahead of elections next year.

Police conducted simultaneous raids in several houses in Istanbul and Ankara and took in more than 20 people.

They included the sons of Interior Minister Muammer Guler, Economy Minister Zafer Caglayan and Environment Minister Erdogan Bayraktar.

The suspects also include well-known businessmen and bureaucrats including the head of Turkish state bank Halkbank Suleyman Aslan and construction tycoon Ali Agaoglu, local media reported.

The economy minister cancelled an official ceremony in Ankara after his son was taken in, according to press reports.

The suspects are accused of accepting and facilitating bribes for some projects and getting construction permits for protected areas in exchange for money, the Hurriyet newspaper reported.

It said the raids were the result of a year-long surveillance operation.

The feud between Erdogan and exiled cleric Fethullah Gulen hit the headlines in Turkey last month after the government floated plans to close down a network of private schools run by Gulen’s Hizmet movement.

The row exposed fractures in the religiously conservative power base of Erdogan, who has dominated Turkish politics for 11 years, ahead of a highly-charged election year beginning with local polls in March.

Gulen, 72, has been living in exile in the United States since 1999 to escape charges of plotting against the secular state but his movement still wields considerable influence within the status apparatus in Turkey including the police and the judiciary.

Highlighting the friction, former international football player Hakan Sukur announced on Monday he was resigning from the AKP.

Sukur, who was elected MP for Istanbul in 2011, has voiced objections to the government move to shut down Gulen’s schools.

The ex-footballer is known to be closely affiliated with the Gulen movement.

Hizmet, which describes itself as a global social and cultural movement inspired by Islamic ideals, is active in education with around 4,000 private schools in Turkey as well as more than 500 around the world.

The movement risks losing millions of dollars in revenue if the government succeeds in closing the Turkish establishments, which offer extra education to prepare students for high school or university.