Are Erdoğan’s claims about graft probe, prosecutor convincing? No, say the experts

Accusations leveled by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan at a public prosecutor who supervised part of the investigation into corruption and bribery claims during the former’s visit to Brussels are far from convincing and aimed at misinforming European officials about a number of developments that have shaken Turkey recently, according to legal experts.
“They [EU officials] were also disturbed when I gave them some examples. In the second wave [of the corruption operation], for example, a prosecutor gave an order for detentions without even opening 25 bags of documents,” Erdoğan told the journalists.

Claims emerged earlier this month that Prosecutor Muammer Akkaş had ordered the detention of dozens of suspects in a corruption investigation without examining 25 bags of documents forwarded to him. Among the suspects were businessmen and bureaucrats. The documents allegedly contained tapes of phone conversations between the suspects.

İstanbul police put the documents in 25 separate bags, which were then sealed and later sent to the prosecutor. According to the claims, however, Akkaş did not even open the bags — which were later allegedly found in his office still sealed — to examine the documents and ordered that the suspects be taken into custody.

According to several leading prosecutors who are now retired, a prosecutor cannot dare to engage in legal action against suspects without examining the required documents of evidence sent to his office as such a practice would come at a heavy cost to the prosecutor.

Retired Supreme Court of Appeals Prosecutor Ahmet Gündel said claims that a prosecutor gave an order for an operation without examining the related documents cannot be explained with “good will.” “First of all, documents, files or folders in investigations that include many suspects are compiled in bags. Those bags are sealed by the prosecutor who deals with the investigation. And a prosecutor who does not have enough evidence cannot ask for the detention or arrest of suspects,” Gündel stated.

The prosecutor also said evidence or documents related to an investigation are not examined solely by one prosecutor. “Other prosecutors also examine those documents. Thus, claims that a prosecutor acted on his own initiative and without examining the required documents to detain some figures are baseless,” he noted.

If a prosecutor does this, Gündel added, he will pay a huge price because, in Turkey, it is very easy to bring a prosecutor before justice. “It is judges and prosecutors who fear the law in Turkey because they know very well what will happen to them if they commit a crime.”

When Akkaş ordered in late December of last year the detention of some 45 suspects as part of the second wave of operation in the corruption investigation, the İstanbul Police Department, which recently saw an extensive purge of its top officers, did not comply with the order. The prosecutor filed a complaint against the police. The case Akkaş was supervising was taken away from him a day later. Last week, the prosecutor was removed from his post and appointed to Tekirdağ, a city close to İstanbul.

After he was blocked from moving forward with the investigation, Akkaş gave copies of a written statement to reporters outside the İstanbul Courthouse. The statement complained about the pressure he had experienced not to pursue the investigation. Akkaş stated that although he issued detention and search warrants for the suspects and relayed these to the İstanbul Police Department on Dec. 25, the police department had not complied with his orders.

Akkaş is better known for his work on sensitive cases such as the Ergenekon coup plot and the murder of Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink.

Former prosecutor Sacit Kayasu said a wise prosecutor would not dare to take legal action against suspects without obtaining enough evidence suggesting wrongdoing. “If a prosecutor does this, then he must be seeking huge personal interest,” Kayasu noted, adding that such a prosecutor would no longer be considered a man of justice.

Kayasu, underlining that he served as a prosecutor for 40 years, said he never witnessed any of his colleagues ordering the detention of suspects without examining pieces of evidence sent to them by the police. “Accusing a prosecutor of doing this is very serious,” he said. According to Kayasu, it is common in Turkey for politicians to level accusations at prosecutors as a politician is always free to speak to the media while prosecutors are prohibited from doing so.

Also on Wednesday, the prime minister told journalists that the “truth came out after other prosecutors examined Akkaş’s deeds related to his investigation.”

“The identities of businessmen the prosecutor targeted in the operation are thought-provoking. They are mostly businessmen who are involved in the construction of the third bridge and airport in İstanbul,” he said.

Erdoğan believes that the corruption investigation was orchestrated by foreign powers that have extensions inside Turkey with the aim of harming Turkey because his government has repaid all of its debt to the International Monetary Fund (IMF); credit rating agencies have increased the economy’s rating; foreign exports have broken new records; foreign currency reserves have expanded; mega projects, including a third bridge over the Bosporus, a third airport and the Marmaray tunnel, were launched in İstanbul; the İstanbul Stock Exchange has developed; an agreement to build Turkey’s nuclear power plant project was signed with Japan; and because borrowing costs have dropped.

The prime minister said he thinks that EU officials were persuaded by his explanations about a number of developments that recently shook Turkey.

However, Hélène Flautre, the co-chairwoman of the EU-Turkey Joint Parliamentary Committee, told the Cihan news agency on Wednesday that Erdoğan had failed to provide “persuasive responses” to questions about political developments in Turkey.

“When he was asked questions about dramatic reassignments in the police force and the judiciary, the Turkish prime minister did not give persuasive answers to European Parliament deputies. Using the arguments to do away with criticisms due to the Gezi Park protests, Erdoğan interpreted the corruption investigations as a foreign attempt to disrupt stability in his country. He defends that the attempts to restructure the judiciary fall within the area of sovereignty of his party’s majority in the Turkish Parliament,” Flautre stated.

Since the corruption operation became public on Dec. 17, some 3,000 police officers as well as dozens of prosecutors have been removed from duty and reassigned to less significant posts. The reassignments drew the ire of government critics, who argue that the government is seeking to prevent the investigation from deepening.

According to Gündel, Erdoğan cannot convince his own people about the government’s good will about what is going on in Turkey, let alone European officials. “You have no chance to make EU officials believe something that is far from convincing for your own people. What is going on is very clear. The EU is giving the Turkish government some time because it does not want to entirely break ties with Turkey. It does not want to look like it is engaged in a fight with Turkey,” the prosecutor said, adding that the EU may issue harsher warnings against the Turkish government if the government continues to go ahead with its activities to uproot the legal system.

Reassigned prosecutor refuses to serve anything but the law

Former Kayseri Chief Public Prosecutor Bülent Bingöl, who was reassigned by the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK) on Jan. 16, has said he would never serve individuals, or anything besides the law.

Bingöl, who was transferred to the Sakarya Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office, said that he is not happy with the recent reassignments in the judiciary, adding that he has never submitted to anyone.

“It doesn’t matter if it’s here or Hakkari. We are public servants. We will go and do our jobs. We are everyone’s prosecutors. Some individuals told me to be only their prosecutor. It is not about the recent reassignments. I’m speaking in general. We never submit to any particular person. We only serve the law, the judiciary and justice. This is what is right. We believe in the supremacy of the law.”

Bingöl added that Turkey is not ruled by prosecutors, judges, police or the army, but the law.

Bingöl added that as a prosecutor, he was never beholden to any particular person, social class or community, but instead strove to be everyone’s prosecutor, trying to dispense justice and support those who were innocent rather than the guilty. “I hope I have managed to do this,” he added.

Bingöl wasn’t the only İstanbul prosecutor to be reassigned to a new city on Jan. 16. A total of 20 prosecutors were removed from their posts that day, including İstanbul Chief Public Prosecutor Turan Çolakkadı, who was assigned to the İstanbul provincial prosecutor’s office; İstanbul Deputy Chief Public Prosecutors Fikret Seçen, Cihan Kansız and Ercan Şafak, who were sent to Gebze, Sakarya and Kocaeli, respectively; and İstanbul Deputy Chief Public Prosecutor Ali Güngör, who was assigned to the İstanbul Public Prosecutor’s Office on the Asian side of the city. Another İstanbul prosecutor, Muammer Akkaş, was transferred to the Tekirdağ Public Prosecutor’s Office.


About yavuzbaydar

Yavuz Baydar has been an award-winning Turkish journalist, whose professional activity spans nearly four decades. In December 2013, Baydar co-founded the independent media platform, P24, Punto24, to monitor the media sector of Turkey, as well as organizing surveys, and training workshops. Baydar wrote opinion columns, in Turkish, liberal daily Ozgur Dusunce and news site Haberdar, and in English, daily Today's Zaman, on domestic and foreign policy issues related to Turkey, and media matters, until all had to cease publications due to growing political oppression. Currently, he writes regular chronicles for Die Süddeutsche Zeitung, and opinion columns for the Arab Weekly, as well as analysis for Index on Censorship. Baydar blogs with the Huffington Post, sharing his his analysis and views on Turkish politics, the Middle East, Balkans, Europe, U.S-Turkish relations, human rights, free speech, press freedom, history, etc. His opinion articles appeared at the New York Times, the Guardian, El Pais, Svenska Dagbladet, and Al Jazeera English online. Turkey’s first news ombudsman, beginning at Milliyet daily in 1999, Baydar worked in the same role as reader representative until 2014. His work included reader complaints with content, and commentary on media ethics. Working in a tough professional climate had its costs: he was twice forced to leave his job, after his self-critical columns on journalistic flaws and fabricated news stories. Baydar worked as producer and news presenter in Swedish Radio &TV Corp. (SR) Stockholm, Sweden between 1979-1991; as correspondent for Scandinavia and Baltics for Turkish daily Cumhuriyet between 1980-1992, and the BBC World Service, in early 1990's. Returning to Turkey in 1994, he worked as reporter and ediytor for various outlets in print, as well as hosting debate porogrammes in public and private TV channels. Baydar studied informatics, cybernetics and, later, had his journalism ediucatiob in the University of Stockholm. Baydar served as president of the U.S. based International Organizaton of News Ombudsmen (ONO) in 2003. He was a Knight-Wallace Fellow at University of Michigan in 2004. Baydar was given the Special Award of the European Press Prize (EPP), for 'excellence in journalism', along with the Guardian and Der Spiegel in 2014. He won the Umbria Journalism Award in March 2014 and Caravella/Mare Nostrum Prize in 2015; both in Italy. Baydar completed an extensive research on self-censorship, corruption in media, and growing threats over journalism in Turkey as a Shorenstein Fellow at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.
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