Court ignored evidence when releasing graft suspects, say legal experts

The release from prison of five major suspects in the ongoing corruption and bribery investigation has led to huge public discontent, with legal experts defining the releases as “unlawful” as a court ruling on the releases allegedly without examining concrete evidence of crime against the suspects.
Iranian businessman Reza Zarrab, prime suspect in the high-profile Dec. 17, 2013 corruption probe, and the sons of two ministers were among five released from prison pending trial on Feb. 28. The suspects were banned from leaving the country and will have to check in with a police station every week. With the release of five suspects, none of the detainees in the investigation remain behind bars.

The decision for the releases was made by a temporary judge, covering for the main judge, who was on leave at the time. According to claims, the temporary judge examined the corruption probe files in one hour and decided to release the suspects.

The court said there was no possibility that the remaining suspects would flee or tamper with evidence, adding that the evidence collected in the investigation had been collected by intercepting and recording conversations between the suspects. Such evidence, the court said, cannot be considered substantive proof unless it is supported by corroborating evidence.

However, some prominent legal experts said the court ignored concrete evidence, suggesting the suspects’ hand in unlawful activities, including large sums of money concealed in the houses of the suspects as well as money safes.

According to retired public prosecutor Mete Göktürk, the court should not have made such a hasty decision to release the suspects in a case that people are following so closely. “The hasty decision has created suspicion in people’s minds,” he said, adding that the reasons the court pointed to when releasing the suspects were not sound enough to get their releases. “Records of phone conversations as well as technical surveillance of the suspects and money seized from their houses are concrete of evidence of crime,” he said. “There was adequate evidence to arrest the suspects, and I do not find their releases a right decision. The investigation is still going on. Things may change,” Göktürk added.

Retired public prosecutor of the Supreme Court of Appeals Ahmet Gündel said the government’s unceasing interference in the investigation from the very beginning has made the probe controversial. “The court may have made the right decision with the releases, but people criticize the releases as the government has openly put pressure on the judiciary [to change the course of the investigation.] People say the [temporary] judge did not duly examine the corruption investigation files and even if they are not right, questions still persist in people’s minds. They are right. Because they government has interfered for several times in this investigation,” he noted.

Lawyer Bilal Çalışır agreed that the court ignored concrete evidence of crime when deciding to release the graft suspects. “Money safes and banknote counters seized [by the police] from the house of [former Interior Minister] Muammer Güler’s son, Bilal Güler, support the evidence [of corruption] collected by the prosecutors as part of the wiretapping of suspects’ phone conversations. In addition, money transfers allegedly made by Reza Zarrab support similar evidence,” he said, adding that the court did not pay attention to these pieces of evidence when releasing the five suspects on Feb. 28.



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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