KPSS operation full of contradictions, claimed to target Hizmet

ISTANBUL: The investigation into alleged cheating in the 2010 State Personnel Examination (KPSS) was restarted recently, amid claims that it is politically motivated after many discrepancies were noted regarding the timing and basis of operations.

On Monday, a total of 61 people were detained related to allegations of cheating in the 2010 KPSS — a centralized exam used to determine those eligible to be employed in the public sector. In addition to the 61 people detained, an Ankara prosecutor ordered the detention of 21 others, indicating that new waves of detentions are in the pipeline.

The case was initially opened in 2010 after more than 3,227 people answered most or all of the questions on the KPSS correctly, leading to claims that some of the candidates had either cheated during the test or obtained the questions beforehand. It was also revealed that some of the most successful candidates were either friends living in the same house or were married to each other. Revelations then emerged that copies of the KPSS questions had been obtained before the exam day and been shared among thousands of candidates.

The investigation — which has been undertaken by four prosecutors since 2010, with three of them refusing to continue with the case due to insufficient evidence — has been criticized for being designed to change public perception toward the Hizmet movement. The Hizmet movement — or Gulen movement — is a grassroots initiative inspired by the teachings of Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gulen that focuses on educational activities.

It was revealed on Tuesday that Gulen is being touted as the main suspect in the case despite the fact that he has been out of the country since 1999 and the complete absence of evidence to prove he has anything to do with the KPSS, strengthening claims that the operations are designed to target the movement as a part of a revenge campaign for corruptions probes that went public in 2013.

Allegations of revenge surfaced given the fact that the investigation has been restarted five years after it was initially opened and dropped due to a lack of evidence, and the restart comes at a time when President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has publicly declared war on the Hizmet movement. During a speech to Justice and Development Party (AK Party) supporters in 2014, Erdogan even went as far as to say, “If reassigning individuals who betray this country is a witch hunt, then yes, we will carry out this witch hunt.”

Fethullah Gulen — who preaches tolerance and interfaith dialogue between Islam and main world religions — has long been the target of Erdogan and his associates within the government, who have blamed the movement for instigating two major corruption probes that went public on Dec. 17 and 25, 2013 and implicated three then-Cabinet members, prominent businessmen and family members of Erdogan.

The investigation is also compromised by the fact that it does not deal with the major events that provoked the first investigation, such as the leak of questions from the Student Selection and Placement Center (ÖSYM). Allegations of corruption have lent weight to critics’ concerns that the operations are politically motivated and intended to frame a certain section of society.

Among the allegations are claims that the space allotted for calculations in the question booklets used in the exam had no markings in them in the cases of high-achieving candidates and that some of those who obtained full marks were married to each other — a ludicrous claim that does not prove that they cheated in the exam.

Despite 3,227 people being charged with cheating in 2010, there are currently only 1,435 suspects, without any explanation having been given as to why the number of suspects has dropped dramatically, strengthening claims that the new investigation is simply targeting the Hizmet movement.

Some defendants have also been asked which bank they use, in an obvious reference to Bank Asya — Turkey’s largest Islamic lender — which has come under attacks from the government for its affiliation with the Hizmet movement. On Feb. 3, 2015, the Banking Regulation and Supervision Agency (BDDK) ruled that management of 63 percent of the privileged shares of Bank Asya held by A-type shareholders be handed over to the state-run Savings Deposit Insurance Fund (TMSF) after Erdogan publicly stated that he is planning a “war” against the movement.