Turkish imam denies involvement in corruption probe

Influential United States-based Turkish cleric denies he was behind a police corruption and bribery probe targeting allies of the prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

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ANKARA // An influential United States-based Turkish cleric has denied that he was behind a police corruption and bribery probe targeting allies of the prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Dozens of people, including the sons of three government ministers, were detained as part of the investigation, which many believe was launched by followers of Fethullah Gulen’s moderate Islamic movement. His followers are believed by many Turks to have a foothold in Turkey’s police force and judiciary.

The lawyer for Mr Gulen, Orhan Erdemli, issued a statement late on Wednesday saying the cleric doesn’t have “the slightest involvement in or knowledge about these investigations.”

Claims of Gulen’s influence were aimed at “distracting the public from the investigation and the substance of the allegations,” he said.

The statement came as Mr Erdogan’s government continued to dismiss police officials allegedly involved in the probe and appointed two new prosecutors it said would ease the burden of the investigation.

Istanbul chief Huseyin Capkin was among those dismissed yesterday, ending his term after 4 1/2 years, according to the state-run Anatolia news agency.

The deputy prime minister, Bekir Bozdag, told a meeting of parliament’s justice committee that he was filing a criminal complaint against prosecutors for “violating the secrecy of the probe,” referring to publication of details of an investigation that’s ensnared the chief executive of a state bank, four cabinet ministers and at least one billionaire.

“This isn’t a struggle against corruption, it’s another version of political engineering,” Mr Erdogan said in remarks published on his official Twitter account.

“There are those who are trying to create a state within a state. We will definitely bring this organisation into the open.”

The investigation undermines Mr Erdogan’s claims that he’s cleared Turkey of graft. It comes as he’s trying to shore up domestic support three months before local elections and eight months before a presidential election next year.

His ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) swept to power in 2002 after a financial crisis revealed rampant corrupt lending at the nation’s banks.

With AKP rules blocking Mr Erdogan from another term as prime minister, he is expected to run for the presidency next year in a bid to retain power.

In response to the perceived attack from the Gulen movement, as Mr Gulen’s followers are known, the government has dismissed dozens of police officials – including some who oversaw the police raids and investigation.

The move has raised criticism from opposition parties that Mr Erdogan’s government is attempting a cover-up of the corruption scandal.

Mr Erdogan insists the probe is a “dirty” conspiracy to harm his government.

He and the Gulen movement have been publicly sparring since November over plans to shut down private prep schools, a source of money and influence for Mr Gulen’s followers. Two lawmakers resigned from Mr Erdogan’s party this month over the decision.

A criminal court in Istanbul has ordered the confiscation of assets belonging to suspects including the sons of the interior minister, Muammer Guler, and the economy minister, Zafer Caglayan, as well as the Iranian-Azeri businessman, Reza Zarrab, who is involved in the oil and gold trade, local newspaper Hurriyet reported yesterday.

The son of the environment minister, Erdogan Bayraktar, a former head of the state housing authority, TOKI, was also being held along with the construction magnate, Ali Agaoglu.

Mr Agaoglu, whose Agaoglu Group is one of Turkey’s top builders, has a net worth of about $2 billion (Dh7.3bn), according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

The arrests mark the most significant political unrest since mass anti-government protests rocked the country last summer.

* Agencies