Power Struggle engulfs Turkey
Fourteen people have been arrested by a Turkish court on Saturday following a corruption probe that led to the detention of more than 50 suspects close to the ruling Justice and Development party and sent shock waves through Turkish political circles.
Those arrested by the court in Istanbul include the sons of the interior minister and economy minister as well as the head of state owned Halkbank, according to the semi-official Anadolu news agency. Nineteen people have been released including the mayor of Fatih Municipality in Istanbul.
The latest arrests bring to a total of 24 people arrested within the scope of this corruption probe.
The corruption raids on Tuesday and the removal of police commanders from their posts on Wednesday were seen by many as part of a political reckoning in Turkey between Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and an Islamist movement believed to control portions of the judiciary and the police.
The Gulen or Hizmet movement is led by Fethullah Gulen, an Islamic cleric in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania.
The more than 50 people detained follow three separate investigations that have been ongoing for more than a year, according to a written statement released by the Istanbul Prosecutor's Office. "Allegations in two of the investigations include public servants accepting bribery and misuse of office, and are generally under the Acting Against Construction and Coastal Law and include as suspects some government workers as well as civilians," the statement said.
Erdogan has been critical of the raids which ensnared the sons of three cabinet ministers calling it a "a very very dirty operation." He believes the operations are being led by gangs with connections abroad. "This has enthusiasts and planners abroad, and their extensions are in our country," he told reporters on Wednesday. "I am not going to elaborate on who they are...you can guess who they are. As you know, there was a period started with Gezi protests, they didn't achieve their goals then...now they have taken a new step," he said referring to anti-government demonstrations that began late last May over plans to build a shopping mall in Gezi Park.
Gulen has denied any involvement in the operations through a letter released by his legal representative in Turkey.
"The esteemed Fethullah Gulen has neither the smallest interest or concern for these investigations and the public servants who are carrying them out," said a statement issued by Gulen's lawyer on Thursday. The letter also responds to statements made by ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) members. "We would like to openly express the following: 'waging war against the government,' 'starting an operation,' 'playing dirty games,' 'setting a trap,' or 'cornering' are only misdirection and are nothing more than imaginary malicious allegations," the statement said.
The sons of Interior Minister Muammer Guler, Economy Minister Zafer Caglayan and Environment and Urban Planning Minister Erdogan Bayraktar were detained in the raids, according to local media. "We will always respect the judiciary. The governments support will always be behind the judiciary," said Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc in a speech but that "it is not right to convict the ministers or the other people named in this process in advance and to hold the government responsible."
Concerning the removal of police commanders form office, Arinc said, the chain of command of police procedure was not followed properly and resulted in the suspensions. There have been widespread press reports that the Interior Minister whose son was one of the detained in the raids, did not have prior knowledge of the operation. "Everyone was unaware of the operation started by the department head. You can keep the names a secret but share them with your supervisor. Is there anything more tragic than the interior minister learning his son has been detained from the press," said Arinc.
Police carried out dawn raids in Istanbul and Ankara, according to local media, including the headquarters of Halkbank, a public bank that was alleged to play a role in side-lining sanctions on Iran in a gold for oil scheme last year.
The head of a large construction company, Ali Agaoglu, was also brought in within the scope of the investigation though the CEO of the company later told Dogan News Agency that Agaoglu was not the focus of the investigation.
Local commentators and analysts see the raids as the most public confrontation of the developing rift between Erdogan's ruling party and supporters of Fethullah Gulen, an Islamic cleric living in Pennsylvania whose loose network of followers are thought to hold key positions within the judiciary and police force.
The Hizmet Movement, the name preferred by Gulen's followers, has in the past thrown its support behind the AKP led by Erdogan but the two have been publicly at odds over the last month. "It was a forced marriage and now it's an ugly divorce," said Ahmet Sik, a journalist who wrote a book on Gulen and his influence within the judiciary and the police force.
Last month Erdogan announced that he would shut down college admission tutorial centres, a large source of revenue and recruitment opportunity for the Gulenists. On Monday, Hakan Sukur, an ex-footballer and Gulen follower, who was elected on the AKP party ticket to parliament resigned his membership in the party citing the governments stance on tutorial centres.
"This is all a judicial process, it would not be right for me to say anything until the outcome," Erdogan told reporters in Konya. But in a fiery speech he delivered there he said "those who are receiving the support of financial circles and media cannot change the direction of this country. Those who are supported by dark circles from inside and outside the country cannot change the direction of Turkey."
Turkey is expected to hold local elections in 2014 and many analysts see this as a test of Erdogan's grip on power after a turbulent year of unprecedented anti-government protests.