Turkey’s police accused of blocking new graft arrests, including PM’s son
Prosecutor removed from the case claims political pressure resulted in obstruction of justice as high-profile graft probe moves closer into premier's inner circle
A Turkish prosecutor has accused police of obstructing his pursuit of a high-level graft case, adding to public scrutiny of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government as it hunkered down defiantly.
In allegations disseminated to Turkish media in writing, prosecutor Muammer Akkas said he had been removed from the case, which he said was compromised by police who refused to comply with his orders to arrest more suspects.
“By means of the police force, the judiciary was subjected to open pressure, and the execution of court orders was obstructed,” Akkas said.
“A crime has been committed throughout the chain of command. Suspects have been allowed to take precautions, flee and tamper with the evidence.”
The statement did not name any of those accused. The government and police did not immediately respond.
Akkas and Turkish chief prosecutor Turhan Colakkadi had been removed from the case for leaking information to the media and failing to give his superiors timely updates on progress.
Akkas’ allegations came the day after Erdogan reshuffled nearly half his cabinet.
Three ministers had resigned after their sons were among dozens of people detained on December 17 as part of the probe into corrupt procurement practices, which has exposed Turkey’s deep institutional divisions and left the pugnacious premier facing arguably the biggest crisis of his 11 years in power.
Erdogan responded by replacing half his cabinet with loyalists on Wednesday while investors took fright, and the lira currency fell further on Thursday to an all-time low.
The outgoing environment minister, Erdogan Bayraktar, said he had been pressured to quit. “I believe the prime minister should also resign,” he said.
However, Erdogan – who faces local elections in March and a national ballot in 2015 – appears determined to weather the storm, even as it inches closer to his inner circle and family. The prime minister has called the secretive investigation a foreign-orchestrated plot without legal merit.
Among those suspects is Erdogan’s son -- identified in some reports as Bilal Erdogan -- whose name was listed in a summons leaked to the media on Thursday evening, The New York Times reported.
The new interior minister, Efkan Ala, will be in charge of Turkey’s domestic security and is considered especially close to Erdogan.
Erdogan, who has built a reputation as a formidable economic steward but also an autocratic leader, responded to the probe by sacking or reassigning some 70 of the police officers involved.
“Erdogan has a deep state. [His] AK Party has a deep state and Efkan Ala is one of the elements of that deep state,” said Kemal Kilicdaroglu, head of the biggest opposition party CHP, using a term which in Turkey denotes a shadowy power structure unencumbered by democratic checks and balances.
The High Council of Judges and Prosecutors, a Turkish body which handles court appointments independent of the government, added its weight to the criticism.
The latest requirement that police investigators keep their superiors informed amount to “a clear breach of the principle of the separation of powers, and of the Constitution,” the council said in a statement.
During his three terms in office, the Islamist-rooted Erdogan has transformed Turkey, cutting back its once-dominant secularist military and overseeing rapid economic expansion.
But his response to the scandal has drawn a European Union call to safeguard the independence of the Turkish judiciary.
It lays bare his rivalry with Fethullah Gulen, a US-based Turkish cleric whose Hizmet movement claims at least one million faithful, including senior police officers and judges.
A newspaper columnist Sedat Ergin told local television that by hand-picking a close ally for the security post, Erdogan has “personally taken the reins of domestic affairs”.
Unlike the rest of the 20-member cabinet, Ala is not a lawmaker and thus does not answer directly to a constituency.
In his previous post as undersecretary of the prime ministry, political sources said, Ala urged a crackdown on the unprecedented summer demonstrations the swept major Turkish cities. Six protesters and a policeman were killed.
“Who would you trust other than your undersecretary, with whom you have been working closely for years?” said one government source, who characterised the new ministers as “surprise” picks in line with Erdogan’s desire for fresh faces.