Turkish prosecutor taken off graft case that has shaken government

Public prosecutor Muammer Akkas says he was removed from high-level corruption case and that police had obstructed proceedings by failing to carry out some arrests.

ISTANBUL // A Turkish prosecutor yesterday said he had been removed from a high-level corruption case that has shaken Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government, and that police had obstructed proceedings by failing to carry out some arrests.

“By means of the police force, the judiciary was subjected to open pressure, and the execution of court orders was obstructed,” said the public prosecutor, Muammer Akkas.

“A crime has been committed throughout the chain of command. Suspects have been allowed to take precautions, flee and tamper with the evidence,” he said.

Mr Akkas’s removal came as Mr Erdogan appointed a new cabinet following the resignations of three ministers implicated in the corruption investigation.

Political observers have linked the inquiry to tensions between Mr Erdogan’s government and followers of an influential Turkish religious leader, Fethullah Gulen, who helped his Justice and Development Party [AKP] win power in 2002.

Although Mr Akkas did not identify anyone, his allegations appeared likely to add to spiralling anger in Turkey over the case that erupted on December 17 with the detention on graft charges of dozens of people, among them the sons of three cabinet ministers and the head of state-run Halkbank.

Mr Erdogan portrayed the investigation as a foreign-orchestrated plot without legal merit and responded by sacking or reassigning about 70 of the police officers involved, including the chief of the force in Istanbul, where Halkbank has its headquarters.

Mr Akkas said he had ordered more suspects to be taken into custody on Wednesday but that police did not comply.

“As of today ... I have found out that I have been removed from my jurisdiction with no reason given,” he said. “All of my colleagues and the public should know that my ability as a public prosecutor to conduct an investigation has been obstructed.”

Turhan Colakkadi, Istanbul’s chief prosecutor and Mr Akkas’s boss, said he had leaked information to the media and had not given superiors updates on the case.

Among the 10 new loyalist ministers Mr Erdogan named late on Wednesday was Efkan Ala, a former governor of the restive Diyarbakir province, who will now head the powerful interior ministry and oversee Turkish domestic security.

“He is trying to put together a cabinet that will not show any opposition to him. In this context, Efkan Ala has a key role,” said Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the head of the biggest opposition party, the Republican People’s Party.

“Erdogan has a deep state, [his] AK Party has a deep state and Efkan Ala is one of the elements of that deep state,” said Mr Kilicdaroglu, using a term that for Turks denotes a shadowy power structure unhindered by democratic checks and balances.

“It would not be incorrect to say that, with this [Ala] appointment, Erdogan has personally taken the reins of domestic affairs,” said Sedat Ergin, a columnist with the newspaper Hurriyet.

At an interior ministry handover ceremony, Mr Ala said Turkey might have been targeted by neighbours jealous of its successes.

Erdogan Bayraktar, the former environment minister, who resigned on Wednesday along with the interior and economy ministers over their sons’ detention, broke ranks by urging the premier to follow suit.

Mr Erdogan, in power for a decade and facing municipal elections in March and a general election in 2015, was unmoved. Vowing no tolerance for corruption, he said on Wednesday the graft inquiry had been tainted by foreign interests.

During his three terms in office, Mr Erdogan has transformed Turkey, cutting back its once-dominant secularist military and overseeing rapid economic expansion.

However, he has been accused of increasingly authoritarian governance that sparked unprecedented protests in major cities this year.

Mr Ala, in his previous post as under secretary of the prime ministry, had urged a clampdown on the demonstrators who flooded the streets over the summer.

Unlike the rest of Mr Erdogan’s 20-member cabinet, Mr Ala is not a legislator and so does not answer directly to a constituency.

“Who would you trust other than your under secretary, with whom you have been working closely for years?” asked a government source, who characterised the new ministers as “surprise” picks conveying Mr Erdogan’s desire for fresh faces.

Akin Unver, assistant professor of international relations at Istanbul’s Kadir Has University, said Mr Ala showed restraint as governor of Diyarbakir, which is populated predominantly by ethnic Kurds whose ties with Ankara have often been troubled.

“He was actually someone who warned against the excessive use of police force,” Mr Unver said. “My worry is that anywhere in the world, when you get closer to power, you can malfunction.”

* Reuters with additional reporting by Agence France-Presse