PM avoids suing critics of corruption out of fear ‘truth may come out’

ISTANBUL (CIHAN)- For roughly four months, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip ErdoIan has been complaining that he and his powerful government are being targeted in a “smear campaign” as part of claims of corruption and bribery, but he is not suing those who are carrying out the alleged campaign.

What is behind the prime minister’s reluctance to go to courts to acquit himself of claims of corruption and bribery could be his fear that the accuracy of those claims may be proven by courts if a thorough investigation is launched, according to observers.

According to the claims, the prime minister, his close family members and several members of the government are involved in corruption and bribery. Twenty-four people, including businessmen close to the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government and the sons of three former Cabinet ministers, were arrested as part of the investigation. They were, however, later released pending trial.

Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) Deputy Chairman Oktay Özturk, who has a background in law, said it is odd for the prime minister to define the corruption investigation as a “judicial coup” but not seek legal redress against this alleged coup. “The prime minister is the target of serious accusations. Is justice done when he denies those accusations? Have you witnessed such justice being done in any place of the world?” he asked, and suggested that the prime minister is afraid that the truth may come out and his hand in wrongdoings may be revealed if the claims are investigated.

Özturk also said the prime minister would not have reassigned so many police officers and members of the judiciary if he was not so deeply worried about the accusations leveled against him.

When the major graft investigation was made public on Dec. 17, 2013, the prime minister did not allow the investigation to carry on freely. He initially ordered the removal of a number of prosecutors involved in the investigation in order to prevent the probe from deepening. Then followed the reassignment of thousands of police officers and hundreds of prosecutors and judges across the country in an attempt to reshape the police force and judiciary.

The prime minister also sought to discredit the investigation, arguing that it was a coup attempt against his Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government. According to the prime minister, the coup attempt was orchestrated by foreign powers that have extensions inside Turkey. He also invented what he called a “parallel state,” which he accused of being behind the investigation and claimed that it exists as an inner structure that is dominating the judiciary and the police.

According to Özturk, Prime Minister ErdoIan is acting both like a prosecutor and judge by interfering in the investigation into claims of corruption. “He claims that his government is being targeted in a judicial coup. He denies claims of corruption. But he does not take judicial action against the claims,” he added.

Indeed, it is not rare for the prime minister to sue his critics. In the latest example in late March, ErdoIan filed a complaint against Today’s Zaman Editor-in-Chief Bulent KeneI and several other journalists on the grounds that they had humiliated him in their tweets. Previously, he sued opposition politicians for their criticism of him. He even sued some satirical comic magazines for their cartoons, which the prime minister said had humiliated him.

In the case of claims of corruption and bribery, however, Prime Minister ErdoIan has not filed a lawsuit against politicians or journalists who speak and write about those claims. This has raised eyebrows among the prime minister’s critics, who wonder if the prime minister’s choosing not to fight against the claims in the judiciary may be linked to his fears that the claims are actually true and their accuracy may be revealed if an investigation is launched into the claims as a result of a lawsuit being filed by ErdoIan.

Retired military judge umit KardaI said the major corruption investigation has been stalled due to interference by the prime minister in the police force and judiciary. “The investigation has not been completed. We don’t know how much evidence prosecutors would have obtained [if they had been allowed to carry out the investigation.] There are hundreds of questions [concerning the developments surrounding the investigation],” he noted.

KardaI believes the prime minister may be worried about the prospect that claims of corruption and bribery may again dominate the national agenda ahead of the presidential elections, slated for August. ErdoIan plans to run in the elections.

The prime minister has not filed a lawsuit against those who leaked a number of voice recordings online recently, either. The recordings suggest the involvement of the prime minister, his close family members and some government officials in corruption and bribery.

In one of those recordings, ErdoIan and his son Bilal allegedly discuss plans on how to hide huge sums of cash on the day when police raided a number of venues as part of the corruption investigation. The recording was leaked in late February. The prime minister denied the authenticity of the recording, claiming that the recording was dubbed and completely false. He vowed to sue those who had orchestrated this “dirty plot.” He has not done so yet, though.

Several Turkish and foreign audio engineers have confirmed the authenticity of the recording.

Science, Industry and Technology Minister Fikri IIIk said he could “feel the recording was fabricated.” He also said there was no need to have the Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey (TuBITAK) analyze the recording to check if it is authentic or not.

Besides the prime minister, four former Cabinet members who are also allegedly involved in corruption and bribery have not gone to courts to be acquitted of accusations. They only claim they are innocent and that they have not engaged in any form of irregularity.

However, prosecutors revealed suspicious links between these former ministers and a group of businessmen before they were removed from the corruption investigation by the prime minister in late December of last year. The prosecutors also prepared a summary of proceedings for the four former ministers — Economy Minister Zafer ÇaIlayan, Interior Minister Muammer Guler, EU Affairs Minister Egemen BaIII and Environment and Urban Planning Minister ErdoIan Bayraktar. The ministers are accused of receiving bribes, illegally changing the zoning plans of environmentally protected areas, establishing a criminal group for the purpose of committing crimes, and conducting imports using falsified documents.

KardaI also said Turkey is going through a period in which people are witnessing many violations of the law and the Constitution. “The judiciary has been placed under pressure by the prime minister. The prime minister harshly criticizes the judiciary and its members almost every day. He says he does not respect rulings made by courts. He insults judges and prosecutors. People’s expectations for justice to be done have been shelved,” he stated.

In early April, when the Constitutional Court overturned a government-sponsored ban on Twitter, Prime Minister ErdoIan harshly criticized the court for its ruling, saying he did not respect the decision. In addition, the prime minister targeted some judges in a wave of harsh criticism on Tuesday, saying there are “gangs” inside the Turkish judiciary, and he said he would purge those gangs and networks from courthouse hallways. In particular, he was targeting judges who had ordered the release from prison of six police officers who had been arrested last week as part of an investigation into claims of illegal wiretapping.

Lawyer Mutceba KIlIç said Prime Minister ErdoIan files lawsuits for almost anything critical of him but has not done the same for the voice recordings he claims are dubbed.

(CihanToday’s Zaman)