Dec. 17-25 ops’ policemen detained ahead of graft scandal’s 2nd anniversary

Simultaneous raids were conducted by the İstanbul Police Department’s Anti-Organized Crime branch early on Tuesday in 13 cities as part of the İstanbul-based operation. According to media reports, detention warrants were issued for 27 former police officers, but only 18 of them have been detained thus far.

Former İstanbul Police Department Financial Crimes Unit Deputy Chief Yasin Topcu; Mehmet Akif Uner, former chief inspector of the Financial Crimes Unit in İstanbul; and former head of the National Police Department’s Anti-smuggling and Organized Crime Bureau (KOM) Mehmet Yesilkaya are among the police officers detained on Tuesday.

Topcu was Yakup Saygılı’s deputy at the time of the graft operations in 2013. Saygılı was head of the police team who carried out the Dec. 17 and 25 corruption and bribery operations. He was removed from his position shortly after the operations and jailed on Sept. 4, 2014 for allegedly attempting to overthrow the government by way of those graft investigations.

Topcu posted a message via his Facebook account just 10 hours before his Tuesday detention, saying that unlawful practices have become so routine that the indifference in the public about such unlawfulness is paving the way for more such practices. “Nowadays, I hear comments such as ‘Will they [the government] detain us soon?’ from honest people around me. I cannot know on which grounds they will detain or will not detain people, but I am sure that they will not keep me outside on the second anniversary of the Dec. 17 operation, if I am able to analyze the perception operations being conducted by the government in the last two years. They will most probably detain me within a week or 10 days. I have already packed my bag and been waiting for two of three months.”

Topcu ends by saying that honest people are being put behind bars one by one in modern Turkey; thus it is an honor for him to be put in prison in protest of the unlawful practices, rather than living in a palace, apparently referring to President Erdogan’s ultra-luxurious presidential palace in Ankara.

Uner was the police inspector who detained Iranian businessman Reza Zarrab, the prime suspect in the Dec. 17 corruption investigation two years ago.

Zarrab was at the center of the graft and bribery scandal that went public on Dec. 17, 2013. Zarrab, who was accused of being the ringleader of a money-laundering and gold-smuggling ring in Turkey established to get around sanctions against Iran, was among 21 people — including the sons of three then-ministers, a district mayor and other high-profile figures — who were arrested as part of the operation on Dec. 17 in a series of simultaneous police raids.

Both Topcu and Uner were detained as part of another government-initiated police operation that took place on July 22, 2014, but they were released pending trial.

The police officers detained after Tuesday raids were brought to the Haseki Teaching and Research Hospital in İstanbul for medical examination on the same day and were then taken to the İstanbul Police Department for questioning.

These recent detentions of the former police officers that took place nine days before the second anniversary of the major corruption investigation that was made public on Dec. 17, 2013 have led to comments as to whether the latest operation was carried out in a bid to take revenge for the graft scandal that led to four Cabinet ministers of the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government leaving their positions following the graft operation.

Simultaneous operations were launched on Dec. 17 and 25, 2013 as part of a major investigation into alleged crimes linked to public tenders, corruption and bribery. The sons of three ministers, bureaucrats and prominent businessmen, as well as the son of former prime minister and current President Erdogan, were implicated in the corruption scandal.

Those detained in the Dec. 17 graft operation included former Interior Minister Muammer Guler’s son Barıs Guler, former Economy Minister Zafer Caglayan’s son Kagan Caglayan, former Environment and Urban Planning Minister Erdogan Bayraktar’s son Oguz Bayraktar, the former mayor of İstanbul’s Fatih district, Mustafa Demir, businessman Ali Agaoglu, Iranian businessman Zarrab and former Halkbank General Director Suleyman Aslan.

Zarrab allegedly bribed former ministers Guler, Caglayan and Egemen Bagıs in addition to several high-level bureaucrats on a number of occasions to prevent government institutions from undermining his illegal business practices — which included illegal transfers of gold to Iran.

Additionally, Zarrab allegedly acquired Turkish citizenship for himself and several other foreigners by bribing the sons of several ministers. A notable example of one of Zarrab’s bribes was an extremely expensive Swiss watch, worth around 300,000 Swiss francs (TL 700,000) given to Caglayan — one of several bribes accepted by the former minister.

Those four ex-ministers in question left their posts under claims of corruption only a week after the graft scandal went public on Dec. 17, 2013.

Erdogan later labeled the operations a “coup attempt,” and in October 2014, prosecutor Ekrem Aydıner dropped the case against the suspects in the Dec. 17 corruption investigation, claiming that there were no grounds for legal action against them.

Most of the police officers who took part in the probe are facing charges of attempting a coup against the government.

The AK Party and Erdogan have accused sympathizers of the faith-based Gulen movement — and especially those in the police force and judiciary — of launching the graft probe as part of an attempt to overthrow the AK Party government.

The Gulen movement has rejected all accusations and no concrete evidence against the movement has ever been produced by the government.