Scandal-hit Turkey PM presses police purge

Since the graft scandal broke out, Recep Tayyip Erdogan has sacked dozens of police officials

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Istanbul prosecutors Friday began charging some of the prime minister’s closest allies in a huge graft scandal which he has responded to with a spectacular purge of the police.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said he was battling “a state within a state” and described the corruption probe, which comes ahead of crucial March polls, as a smear operation.

The crisis erupted Tuesday when police detained the sons of three ministers as part of a sweeping investigation, one of the most brazen challenges to Erdogan’s 10-year rule.

A total of 89 people, including several close Erdogan allies were detained in a series of dawn raids, sparking a crisis which rattled the stock market and sent the Turkish lira to an all-time low.

Media reports on Friday said that prosecutors had begun handing out corruption indictments, with the first eight formally arrested and placed in pre-trial detention.

They are suspected of numerous offences including accepting and facilitating bribes for development projects and securing construction permits for protected areas.

The remaining detainees were appearing in court Friday after being interrogated by police, according to local media.

The Hurriyet daily said 15 had already been released although there was no official confirmation.

Since the scandal broke out, Erdogan has sacked dozens of police officials, including the national police chief, for cooperating with the investigation without permission.

Turkish media said another 17 were fired on Friday alone, amid a widening purge of the police command.

His critics accuse him of desperately trying to protect his cronies and the appointment of Selami Altinok, a little-known governor with no police career, was further seen as an attempt to shut down the investigation.

Altinok raised eyebrows when he landed in Istanbul on Thursday in the premier’s private jet.

Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the leader of main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), called Erdogan a “dictator”.

“In this country, everything is controlled by what comes out of a dictator’s mouth... They want to drag the country into the darkness of 19th century,” Kilicdaroglu said.

“Turkey needs clean politics and a clean society.”

Most observers have interpreted the raids as a result of tensions between Erdogan’s government and Fethullah Gulen, a Muslim cleric who wields considerable political and economic clout.

Gulen, who lives in self-imposed exiled in Pennsylvania, had an increasingly public feud with Erdogan and his allies in the moderately Islamist ruling AKP party.

The graft probe has also exposed bitter fault lines in Erdogan’s traditional power base and prompted calls from both his own party and opposition parties for the resignation of the entire government.

“No one has the right to intervene in the judicial process,” wrote former Culture Minister Ertugrul Gunay on Twitter.

The European Union, which Turkey aspires to join, on Thursday urged Turkish authorities to investigate the graft allegations in an “impartial manner”.

EU Affairs Minister Egemen Bagis branded the probe a “disgusting conspiracy.”

Among the suspects detained in the raids are the sons of Interior Minister Muammer Guler, Economy Minister Zafer Caglayan and Environment Minister Erdogan Bayraktar along with the chief executive of state-owned Halkbank, Suleyman Aslan, and construction tycoon Ali Agaoglu.

The influential Turkish Industrialists’ and Businessmen’s Association (TUSIAD) also voiced concern over the investigation that continues to weigh on Turkey’s economy.

“Allegations of bribery and corruption are very worrisome. We hope that the case is solved within the framework of legal principles without harming anyone’s personal rights,” a statement by TUSIAD said on Friday.

In trading on Friday, the Turkish lira was at 2.094 against the dollar compared to 2.071 on Thursday.

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