Erdogan threatens to expel foreign envoys

Sons of the Turkish interior and economy ministers were charged and placed in custody early Saturday in connection with a graft probe

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Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Saturday threatened to expel foreign ambassadors, blaming them for an investigation implicating people close to his government in a vast corruption and bribery scandal.

“Some ambassadors are engaged in provocative actions,” Erdogan said in televised remarks in the Black Sea city of Samsun. “We don’t have to keep you in our country.”

“If our ambassadors in foreign countries are trying to plan such ruses, don’t bother sending them; we’ll recall them right away.”

Erdogan’s remarks come after two government ministers’ sons were arrested, along with high-profile bureaucrats, politicians and businessmen, including Suleyman Aslan, the CEO of state-owned Halkbank.

In total, 24 people were jailed pending trial, accused of taking or facilitating bribes, the Dogan news agency reported. Turkish media reports say the investigation relates to illicit money transfers to Iran and large-scale bribery for construction projects, Associated Press reported.

Erdogan insisted that the the anti-corruption campaign has international links undertaken by powers disturbed by Turkey’s growing regional and international influence.

“How can you almost quadruple the national income in a country where corruption is prevalent?” he asked, referring to his Justice and Development Party’s decade-long track record in boosting economy, according to the Anadolu Agency.

Erdogan’s remarks were considered a veiled threat to U.S. Ambassador Francis Ricciardone who, according to some pro-government media outlets, told some European Union envoys that Washington warned state-owned Halkbank to cut its ties with sanctions-hit Iran.

The chief executive of Halkbank, Aslan, was one of scores of people, including the sons of Erdogan cabinet ministers, who have been arrested in the high-profile bribery investigation that went to the heart of the government, which has been in power since 2002.

Aslan was charged early Saturday with taking bribes, the Hurriyet newspaper said without elaborating.

It was the first time that such a large scandal has hit those close to Erdogan who has run Turkey since 2002 as the head of a conservative Islamic-leaning government.

The crisis erupted Tuesday when police made the arrests in a series of dawn raids.

Among those detained were the sons of Interior Minister Muammer Guler, Economy Minister Zafer Caglayan and Environment Minister Erdogan Bayraktar.

But the son of the environment minister, detained along with 80 others, was released overnight Friday after hours of questioning by prosecutors and judges.

The crisis has rattled the stock market and sent the Turkish lira to an all-time low.

Since the scandal broke out, Erdogan has sacked dozens of police officials, including the Istanbul 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.

Erdogan’s critics accuse him of desperately trying to protect his cronies, and the appointment of Selami Altinok, a little-known governor with no police career, as Istanbul’s new police chief 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.

The Erdogan government’s allegation of a plot against it echoes its reaction to mass protests that shook the country in June, when a police crackdown on a peaceful sit-in against plans to raze an Istanbul park sparked huge demonstrations against the prime minister and his party.

At least six people died and 8,000 were hurt in three weeks of protests.

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