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Erdogan Defends Defense Tender Role as Wiretap Controversy Rages

March 5 (Bloomberg) -- Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan defended his involvement in a defense contract and legal proceedings against Turkey’s most powerful media mogul, fueling a controversy unleashed by purported recordings of his phone calls.

Erdogan said today his interest in both issues was “natural,” and said further steps would be taken against followers of a U.S.-based imam the premier has accused of targeting the government through a wide-ranging corruption investigation.

Leaked wiretaps of alleged phone calls between Erdogan and a losing bidder in a 1.5 billion euro ($1.23 billion) contract to build ships for the Turkish navy, and with former Justice Minister Sadullah Ergin over a case involving Dogan Holding’s Chairman Aydin Dogan, were “dishonest” acts by an illegal group linked to cleric Fethullah Gulen, Erdogan said.

A series of recordings of calls posted on the Internet and said to be between Erdogan and close allies, including former ministers and family members, have triggered charges the government has a cozy relationship with businessmen and interferes in state contracts and the judiciary.

The naval contract, originally awarded to Koc Holding’s RMK Marine, was canceled by the prime minister’s inspection board after a Koc-owned hotel opened its doors to anti-government protesters last June.

Dogan Holding yesterday said it was seeking urgent proof the recordings weren’t real, adding that any such conversation between Erdogan and the justice minister would constitute “clear interference with the judicial process.”

To contact the reporters on this story: Selcan Hacaoglu in Ankara at shacaoglu@bloomberg.net; Onur Ant in Ankara at oant@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andrew J. Barden at barden@bloomberg.net

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