Erdoğan insists voice recordings fake as opposition calls on gov’t to resign

A voice recording leaked on the Internet on Monday evening, which allegedly features Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan instructing his son to dispose of vast amounts of cash amid an ongoing corruption operation, has sent shockwaves through the country, with opposition parties calling for the government to resign.

“The prime minister should resign. The prime minister, who remains crushed by claims of corruption and theft, should immediately resign. Turkey cannot continue on its path with this dirt, this burden,” Haluk Koç, spokesman of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), told reporters at a press meeting in the party’s headquarters in Ankara late the same night.

Arguing that the government has lost its legitimacy, Koç said a number of legal arrangements the government has recently made are designed to “cover up this dirt” and prevent the wave of operations from reaching the prime minister. The CHP leadership met, apparently to discuss the voice recording, immediately after it was leaked over the Internet.

According to the voice recording, on the morning of the day prosecutors launched a graft probe that rocked the government, Erdoğan called his son Bilal to tell him to get rid of the huge amount of money in his home with the help of close relatives. Later in the day, Bilal allegedly told his father that he had still around 30 million euros at his home despite the efforts to dispose of it.

Early on Tuesday, the executive board of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) also held a meeting. In a written statement, party Chairman Devlet Bahçeli called the voice recording “mind-blowing” and urged top prosecutors and other judicial bodies to launch an investigation into the prime minister. He said Erdoğan should “not even think about” escaping the blame by claiming that the tapes had been edited.  

“The judiciary should launch into action. The esteemed chief prosecutor of the Supreme Court of Appeals cannot just sit on his chair. He cannot turn a deaf ear to so many claims and words circulating [about the prime minister’s involvement in corruption.] Even if the prime minister covers up all these claims, the chief prosecutor should assign other prosecutors to launch an investigation [into the prime minister],” the MHP chairman stated. He also said the prime minister should provide evidence to support his claim that the voice recordings had been fabricated.

The ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) argued, on the other hand, that the recordings are fabricated and vowed to take legal action against their creators, while opposition parties have called on the government to step down and be held to account for the corruption claims.  

“What has been done [the voice recordings] is a treacherous attack on the prime minister of Turkey,” Erdoğan said in an address to AK Party deputies during a parliamentary group meeting on Tuesday. He said the recordings are “a shameless montage” and claimed that he can answer any allegations leveled against him.

The prime minister also described the recordings as part of “efforts to overthrow my government”. “This coup attempt will not remain unanswered,” he said, vowing legal action against the perpetrators. “The trial of the Dec. 17 [2013] coup attempt will not be delayed. First the people and then the judiciary will call them to account,” he noted.  

The prime minister was referring to voice recordings posted on YouTube on Monday evening. The recordings allegedly date back to Dec. 17, 2013, the day the major corruption operation began. On the voice recordings, a voice alleged to be Erdoğan’s is heard telling his son — during five wiretapped phone conversations — to dispose of large sums of money hidden in several relatives’ homes on the day police raided a number of locations as part of the operation. The operation implicated the sons of three former ministers, businessmen and the general manager of a state-owned bank.  

The prime minister, at the beginning of the recorded conversations, allegedly conducted over an encrypted line, briefs his son Bilal Erdoğan about the operation and asks him to “zero” the money by distributing it among several businessmen. An introductory note at the beginning of the recording says the plan involves at least $1 billion in cash stashed in five houses. The authenticity of the recordings has not been verified. Towards the end of the recordings, Bilal Erdoğan tells his father that he and others have “finished the tasks you gave us,” implying that the whole sum was “zeroed.” Erdoğan asks his son not to talk openly on the phone, saying that they are being wiretapped. He also says that he did “some things” at the İstanbul Police Department, referring to the immediate reassignment of dozens of police officers in the department.

“They went and made a shameless montage and released it,” Erdoğan told Parliament. “They are even listening to the state’s encrypted telephones. That’s how low they are.” Though he did not state this openly, it is likely that he was referring to the Hizmet movement, which is inspired by Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen.

Following the breaking of the corruption operation, the prime minister was quick to attribute the operation to a “parallel state,” a veiled reference to the Hizmet movement. He said a gang had nested itself within the Turkish state in an attempt to topple the AK Party government. “We will reveal one by one all the misdeeds of the parallel organization, and we will make those who walk with them so embarrassed that they won’t be able to go out in the street,” Erdoğan told Parliament.

He said his party would use the same technology to publish similar voice recordings featuring the voices of opposition leaders.

The Prime Ministry released a forceful statement late on Monday, claiming that the voice recordings are fake and “completely untrue.” “The recordings that were released via the Internet this [Monday] evening, accompanied by the allegation that they are a telephone conversation between our prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, and his son, are completely untrue and the product of an immoral montage,” Erdoğan’s office wrote in the statement. The Prime Ministry vowed in this statement to sue those who had orchestrated the “dirty plot.” “Those who created this dirty conspiracy targeting the prime minister of the Republic of Turkey will be brought to account within the law,” it said.

Shortly after the release of the voice recording, Erdoğan held an emergency meeting with Deputy Prime Minister Beşir Atalay, Interior Minister Efkan Ala and National Intelligence Organization (MİT) head Hakan Fidan.  

Also on Tuesday, the AK Party announced that it had established a “commission” composed of several party deputies with legal backgrounds to examine the voice recordings. The party also said it would “take action” on the commission’s findings.  

Justice Minister Bekir Bozdağ described the voice recordings as “immorality,” saying the recordings had been “fabricated” and that some circles would resort to any methods to “play with the dignity of people.” “We will call them to account within the law,” he said.  

At the AK Party’s parliamentary group meeting on Tuesday, the prime minister lashed out at the opposition CHP and MHP, accusing the two parties of “seeking political gains through the audio recording.” “The CHP and MHP held extraordinary meetings yesterday [Monday]. They were expecting to derive political gains [from the recordings]. They are just dreaming. We were brought to this position [political power] by the nation, and we will be removed by the nation alone. If they [the opposition parties] hope that they will beat us with fabricated voice recordings, they will fail. We will not be beaten. I am asking my dear people to wait and see. We will respond to all these slanders one by one,” he stated.  

Earlier this month, Bilal Erdoğan had testified as part of the corruption investigation, denying all the accusations leveled against him. He was reportedly questioned about claims that he had received bribes from a number of businessmen.

The sons of former Interior Minister Muammer Güler and former Economy Minister Zafer Çağlayan remain under arrest pending trial on corruption and bribery charges. So does Reza Zarrab, an Iranian businessman who is considered the main suspect in the corruption investigation.

In his speech at a parliamentary group meeting on Tuesday, CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu played the voice recordings allegedly featuring the voices of Prime Minister Erdoğan and his son, Bilal.

“I am having the saddest day of my life. … For the first time [in Turkey], a government is trying to rob the state,” said the CHP leader, who began his speech after playing the recordings. “I previously called the prime minister the ‘prime thief.’ I received criticism from some people. Today we understand that he [the prime minister] really is a prime thief. This voice recordings reveal the truth,” he added.  

According to Kılıçdaroğlu, the prime minister, along with several government officials, are engaged in efforts to sweep the corruption investigation under the carpet. “They are in a race against time. But the corruption and bribery operation is so big that there are no means to sweep it under the carpet,” he noted. The CHP leader also said that his party had used what he called “three or four sources” to check the authenticity of the voice recordings, adding: “The recordings and the words spoken [on the recordings] are authentic. They are as authentic as Mount Ararat.” Kılıçdaroğlu also claimed that Erdoğan has accounts with eight Swiss banks.

“We can no longer call him a prime minister. The legitimacy of this government has ended. A liar and a thief cannot serve as prime minister,” Kılıçdaroğlu said, calling on Erdoğan to quit his post. “Either get on a helicopter and flee this country or resign from your post as prime minister. A man who robs the state cannot sit on the prime minister’s chair,” he added.

In the meantime, CHP Deputy Chairman Umut Oran submitted a parliamentary question on Tuesday, asking the prime minister to verify the authenticity and content of the voice recordings. “Do the voices on the recordings belong to you and your son?” asked Oran, adding, “Why don’t you resign in the face of growing corruption claims that implicate you and members of your family?”

Pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) Chairman Selahattin Demirtaş, also speaking at his party’s parliamentary group meeting on Tuesday, said it is simple to determine whether the voice recordings are authentic or not, urging the prime minister to allow technical analysis on the recordings. “It would take only around 20 minutes to learn whether the voice recordings belong to the prime minister or not. If the prime minister has self-confidence, he can go to the Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey [TÜBİTAK] and have the voice on the recordings compared with his own voice,” the BDP chairman said. Demirtaş said the prime minister should do this instead of complaining that the recordings are fabricated.

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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