What happened since the launch of the graft probes, Dec 17? A summary:

Here is an update of the developments of the past two months that shook Turkey further, according to a story by Today’s Zaman:
1 – It all started on Dec. 17, 2013. The police detained 52 people, including prominent businessmen with close relations with the government, the sons of three ministers and a mayor as part of a graft investigation started by public prosecutors in İstanbul.
2 – Reza Zarrab, an Iranian businessman living in Turkey, was arrested by a court for administering a shady network to launder at least 87 billion euros to circumvent international sanctions against Iran and bribing ministers and officials to keep the scheme working. Not a penny in taxes was paid for transactions and public bank Halkbank was used as though it was the central bank of Iran.

3 – Some details of the investigation were leaked to the media. Accordingly, Zarrab’s couriers, Ahmet Murat Öziş and Sadık Mohammadsadegh Rastgarshishehg, allegedly delivered $2 million, 2 million euros and TL 1.5 million (totaling around TL 11 million) to former Economy Minister Zafer Çağlayan’s son, Salih Kaan Çağlayan. Photos also showed Zarrab’s men conducting transactions with the other sons of ministers. The investigation details also revealed that some family members of Zarrab had been granted Turkish citizenship on exceptional grounds by an order from former Interior Minister Muammer Güler in return for a $5 million bribe. Furthermore, Minister Çağlayan was accused of accepting a valuable watch worth 300,000 Swiss francs (TL 700,000) as a bribe from Zarrab.

4 – Orhan İnce, the former deputy police chief of the Fatih Police Department in İstanbul, claimed that he had been removed from his post after Zarrab bribed a high-level politician in order to protect his illegal activity.

5 – According to an official statement from the Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office, the operation consists of three separate investigations. The first involves construction mogul Ali Ağaoğlu and other businessmen; the second, the three sons of Cabinet ministers; and the third involves Halkbank.

6 – During raids following the detentions, police found $4.5 million in cash stuffed into shoeboxes and about TL 10 million (about $5 million) also in cash in a bookshelf in Halkbank General Manager Süleyman Aslan’s house. Similarly, police found a substantial amount of cash and seven steel vaults in the house of one of the ministers’ sons.

7 – Barış Güler, the son of former Interior Minister Güler, Salih Kaan Çağlayan, the son of Economy Minister Çağlayan, Reza Zarrab, Mustafa Demir and Aslan were later arrested by the court. Ağaoğlu and the son of former Environment and Urban Planning Minister Erdoğan Bayraktar were released by the court.

8 – On Dec. 25, three Cabinet ministers whose sons were linked to the investigation resigned from their offices. Economy Minister Çağlayan and Interior Minister Güler announced their resignations first. Environment and Urban Planning Minister Bayraktar was apparently also under pressure to resign and ultimately also relinquished his post in Parliament.

9 – Late the same day Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan announced a Cabinet reshuffle, effectively ousting the fourth minister linked to the first investigations from his post.

10 – Prime Minister Erdoğan claimed the investigation was a coup attempt by international power groups and their proxies in Turkey to topple his government. Erdoğan praised Zarrab for his contribution to the country’s economy and charity events.

11 – A confidential report published in the local media revealed that the National Intelligence Organization (MİT) had warned Prime Minister Erdoğan in early 2013 about suspicious relationships between Zarrab and then-ministers Güler and Çağlayan.

12 – An overnight government decree was issued, changing regulations requiring police chiefs to notify their superiors of any investigation begun by prosecutors.

13 – Former Environment and Urban Planning Minister Bayraktar, in a strong statement, claimed that he had been pressured to submit his own resignation to save the prestige of the government, adding that the prime minister should also quit as most of the amendments to the construction plans mentioned in the corruption investigation were made on the prime minister’s orders. He apologized to Erdoğan after a month and withdrew his resignation application.

14 – Prime Minister Erdoğan started a defamation campaign against the Hizmet movement, a voluntary-based grassroots movement to spread tolerance and interfaith dialogue throughout the world.

15 – Interior Minister Efkan Ala, only days after he was named to replace the embattled Güler, claimed to have documents proving that lobbies were behind an organized coup attempt. He said a bank had compiled massive amounts of dollars from the markets before the graft investigation started and that he had evidence to back this claim. Pro-government media accepted this as a call to attack a private bank and a campaign was launched to sink that bank. Minister Ala gave no proof to support his claim and declined all questions about this shady transaction since then.

16 – Some state-owned companies withdrew large sums of their money, amounting to hundreds of millions of dollars, from this bank to cause it to collapse. The bank’s shareholders thwarted this assault by strengthening the capital structure of the bank.

17 – Twitter account Haramzadeler, meaning “sons of thieves” in Turkish, started leaking documents and voice recordings all collected legally by prosecutors of the second investigation, which has been stalled by the government.

18 – Haramzadeler released a voice recording between Erdoğan and Fatih Saraç, the deputy chairman of the Ciner Media Group. The prime minister gave him instructions to stop running a news ticker in which the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) leader had called on President Abdullah Gül to intervene and decrease tension during the Gezi Park protests, which rocked the country at the beginning of last summer.

19 – In another tape, Saraç was caught talking with Habertürk daily Editor-in-Chief Fatih Altaylı over the manipulation of the findings of a 2013 opinion poll in which the opposition MHP seemed to be gaining more popular support. Altaylı was heard telling Saraç that he will change the results in favor of the governing Justice and Development Party (AK Party) and the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP).

20 – The prime minister’s son Bilal Erdoğan and the Foundation of Youth and Education in Turkey (TÜRGEV), which he owns, were accused of receiving donations from businessmen in return for gaining tenders from the government.

21 – The Cumhuriyet daily ran a story showing a bank receipt for a transfer of almost $100 million to TÜRGEV’s account in Vakıfbank, a public bank. The money was later transferred to another account in the same bank, the daily noted. Nearly a month later, $50 million of the money was transferred back to the original account and four months later, $28 million more was transferred, according to Cumhuriyet.

22 – Haramzadeler leaked voice recordings showing Prime Minister Erdoğan accepting two villas from businessman Mustafa Latif Topbaş in return for easing zoning restrictions in İzmir’s Urla district. Erdoğan has not denied the allegations yet. Instead, the websites hosting these recordings are being banned one after another.

23 – The Sözcü daily reported that the İzmir 4th Administrative Court ruled in 2012 that the villas lacked the proper permits and had to be demolished. The daily said businessman Topbaş has paid the ruling no heed and claimed that the buildings, still under construction, are about to be completed.

24 – İzmir’s Provincial Environment and Urban Planning Director Fethi Şahinoğlu was removed from his post. Şahinoğlu caught national attention when claims emerged that he had declined to help Topbaş get the permits for the construction of the villas in Urla. In taped phone conversations that surfaced in the media, two unidentified businessmen complained about the director’s inaction on the villa project. The businessmen called Şahinoğlu “distant and cowardly.”

25 – A motion allegedly prepared by public prosecutors focusing on Erdoğan and businessman Topbaş defined the businessman as the “leader of a criminal group.” In the document, the businessman is accused of rigging tenders, giving and receiving bribes and illegally engaging in construction in environmentally protected zones. Close ties between the businessman and Erdoğan helped the criminal group to carry out its activities easily, according to the motion.

26 – The motion stated that former Environment and Urban Planning Minister Bayraktar, General Director of the Protection of Natural Heritage Agency Osman İyimaya and Urla District Governor Şehmus Günaydın also assumed roles in changing the zoning restrictions in Urla. A total of TL 130,000 paid in bribes to university professors for the preparation of a misleading report about the area where the villas were erected was financed by Topbaş, according to the motion.

27 – The document went on to state that another plot of land was purchased for TL 800,000 to construct a summer resort for the prime minister close to Zeytineli and that contractors were planning to complete the resort in May of this year.

28 – A motion prepared against Former Transportation, Maritime Affairs and Communications Minister Binali Yıldırım, who is currently running for mayor of İzmir on the AK Party ticket, claimed the minister rigged some tenders held by the ministry and helped some businessmen win tenders held by the ministry in return for bribes.

29 – The motion focuses on claims of tender-rigging at the ministry as well as claims of fraud and malpractice during the sale of Turkuaz Media, which includes the Sabah daily and the ATV channel, among other outlets. Accordingly, Minister Yıldırım demanded a 10 percent profit commission from businessmen in return for helping them win tenders held by the Ministry of Transportation, Maritime Affairs and Communications.

30 – The motion said Yıldırım collected money from some businessmen through his chief advisor, Ömer Sertbaş, and businessman Mehmet Cengiz to help them win public tenders, and prepared a list of businessmen that clearly stated which businessman would win which tender even before the tenders were held. The prime minister’s son Bilal Erdoğan supervised the bribery process, according to the motion. Tenders for the construction of some railroads were later given to those businessmen. The businessmen paid up to $300 million each to win the tenders.

31 – The motion also stated that money collected from businessmen was taken to the building of Çalık Holding, which owns Turkuaz Media. Prosecutors noted that the money taken to Çalık Holding would probably be used to finance the establishment of a new media group, defined as Zirve Holding, and businessman Ömer Faruk Kalyoncu would be brought to the helm of the new group.

32 – The Board of Protection of Cultural and Natural Assets decided to lift zoning restrictions on a parcel of land in a district in the western province of İzmir and move historic artifacts discovered there to another location to let landowner discount supermarket chain BİM Birleşik Mağazalar A.Ş. construct a warehouse on the site.

33 – In a voice recording released by Twitter user Haramzadeler, Erdoğan reproached Ciner Media Group Deputy Chairman Saraç over the phone for broadcasting a press meeting of MHP leader Devlet Bahçeli in which he harshly criticized the government.

34 – Haramzadeler uploaded another voice recording on YouTube revealing show that three journalists working for the Habertürk daily were allegedly fired for secretly selecting a news report criticizing deficiencies in the public health system to be published in the İstanbul edition of Habertürk in September of last year.

35 – The Telecommunications Directorate (TİB) ordered independent online news portal T24 to remove a news article from its website about the parliamentary inquiry submitted by the Republican People’s Party (CHP) deputy chairman Umut Oran into the sale process of Turkuaz Media Group.

36 – TİB sent another request to Oran to remove the information regarding his parliamentary question from his own website, too, stirring a massive controversy among the public. TİB later apologized the deputy, saying the notification was inadvertently sent to him.

37 – Since the unfolding of the corruption investigation on Dec. 17, the government has conducted a massive purge in the police force, judiciary and bureaucracy. As of February, over 6,000 policemen, hundreds of prosecutors and judges and many other bureaucrats were either replaced, dismissed or reshuffled as a preemptive attempt to prevent further investigations.


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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