x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Turkish police chiefs sacked after detaining ministers’ family members in fraud probe

Five police chiefs dismissed after dozens of people including sons of cabinet ministers are detained in a high-profile probe into bribery and fraud.

ANKARA // Five Turkish police chiefs have been dismissed after dozens of people including sons of cabinet ministers were detained in a high-profile probe into bribery and fraud, media reports said yesterday.

The police raids on Tuesday and the subsequent sackings have highlighted deep rifts in the prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s, support base ahead of key elections next year.

The operation sent shock waves across the country and prompted calls from opposition parties for the resignation of the entire government.

“This is the biggest scandal in the history of the republic,” said Engin Altay of the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP). “The prime minister must resign.”

At least 50 people were detained in the dawn raids suspected of numerous offences including accepting and facilitating bribes for development projects and securing construction permits for protected areas in exchange for money, as well as gold smuggling and money laundering.

The sons of the interior minister, Muammer Guler, the economy minister, Zafer Caglayan, and the environment minister, Erdogan Bayraktar, were detained along with well-known businessmen and bureaucrats including the chief executive of Turkish state bank Halkbank, Suleyman Aslan, and the construction tycoon Ali Agaoglu.

Police have declined to comment on the sackings or the raids, which were said to be the result of a year-long surveillance operation.

There is speculation the investigation may be linked to a dispute between Mr Erdogan’s government and a former ally, the influential Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen.

Mr Gulen lives in exile in the United States, but his followers wield considerable influence in several arms of Turkey’s state apparatus including the police and judiciary.

Known as the Gulen movement, Mr Gulen’s followers were key supporters of Mr Erdogan’s Islamic-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP), helping it win three elections since 2002.

But government plans unveiled last month to close down a network of private schools run by the Gulen movement appear to have shattered the alliance.

“It would not be wrong to see the latest bribery operation... as a new phase in the Gulen-government battle,” said Rusen Cakir, a political analyst.

He said the Gulen movement has adopted an “attack is the best defence” tactic.

But the government vowed it would not bow to any threats.

“The AKP takes its strength neither from dark forces, nor from the other side of the ocean, nor from dirty alliances,” said Salih Kapusuz, deputy leader of the AKP.

Although Mr Erdogan remains the most powerful figure in Turkish politics, commentators say the feud with the Gulen movement has the potential to cause splits within his party.

Mr Erdogan and the AKP face key tests in local polls in March, which will be followed by a presidential ballot in August and legislative elections in 2015.

* Agence France-Presse