Turkey Graft Probe Begets Campaign of Reprisals as Toll Mounts

Turkey’s ruling party ordered purges of police chiefs and moved to tighten control of the judiciary, as a top official said there’s no chance of a truce in the struggle with prosecutors leading a corruption probe.

The government will keep firing those leading the investigation and then seek to prosecute them for attempting a coup, Osman Can, a member of the central committee of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party, or Ak Party, said in a Jan. 6 interview in Istanbul.

“My opinion is that they are criminals -- the police and the judges and prosecutors,” Can said. “If you can destroy this organization, you can save democracy.”

The remarks suggest there’s little appetite in the ruling party for ending an internal war of attrition that has battered Turkish markets. Erdogan’s party accuses supporters of U.S.- based Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen, who have positions of power in the judiciary and police, for pursuing the graft probes in an effort to turn public opinion before local elections in March. Gulen has denied involvement.

Gulen supporters dominate “all the control points” of Turkey’s judiciary, even though they account for about only 15 percent of its personnel, the Ak Party’s Can said. He said the government is “discussing every possible option” to remove that influence.

‘Two-Headed’ State

The government yesterday sent amendments to parliament, empowering Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag to appoint top legal officials to oversee courts, a role currently held by the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors, or HSYK. The board on Dec. 26 said government interference posed a threat to its independence.

Turkey can’t afford to lose control over the judiciary and police, Deputy Prime Minister Ali Babacan told BloombergHT television in an interview today. “The state can’t be two-headed.”

The government has reassigned prosecutors leading the investigations and dismissed almost 2,000 police officers since news of the 15-month secret investigations broke on Dec. 17, according to Hurriyet newspaper. Three sons of cabinet ministers and the chief executive officer of a state-run bank were among dozens detained that day.

In a new wave of dismissals announced today, the government reassigned Muammer Bucak, a deputy head of the national police force, and recalled police chiefs from 15 provinces, including the capital, Ankara, according to a decree in the Official Gazette.

EU Candidate

“The rule of law is by far the most notable casualty of the ongoing crisis,” Wolfango Piccoli, an analyst at Teneo Intelligence in London, said in e-mailed comments on Jan. 6. “It is unclear whether the government is committed to this principle, and it is equally questionable whether the judiciary and the police can actually deliver justice.”

In Brussels, a spokesman for the European Commission expressed concern about “the capacity of the legal system and the police to conduct independent investigations.” As a candidate to join the European Union, Turkey must respect EU entry criteria, including rule of law, and deal with corruption allegations “in a transparent and impartial manner,” Olivier Bailly told a news conference today.

Since the arrests began, the Turkish lira has weakened 7.2 percent versus the dollar, the most among global currencies, the benchmark stock index has fallen 10 percent, while yields on the government’s two-year notes reached a two-year high this week. Fitch Ratings said yesterday that the turmoil could lead Turkey to lose its investment-grade rating, should the turmoil undermine the government’s ability to maintain economic stability.

Former Allies

Gulen’s movement and Erdogan’s party were allies for most of the past decade. They split over issues including Erdogan’s pursuit of a peace accord with Kurdish militants and the government’s decision to close the university exam prep schools that are a source of influence and income for Gulen followers, according to Can, a former official at the Constitutional Court.

He said the government would only go after Gulen followers who have sought to topple Erdogan’s elected government, and that other sympathizers working in state institutions won’t face retribution. Can said the group’s structure and obedience to one leader mean that its more “militant” members aren’t compatible with democratic systems.

“They have their own agenda, which definitely does not fit with civil democracy,” Can said. “After they are removed, the government should prosecute them to the end.”

‘Judicial Coup’

Graft prosecutor Zekeriya Oz said in a written statement that Erdogan sent two mediators to him, asking for an apology letter and an end to the corruption investigations. Erdogan said Oz’s claims were false and slanderous, according to the state-run Anatolia news agency. Oz was reassigned to a post in an Istanbul suburb yesterday, according to Aksam newspaper.

Can said that while some of the corruption charges may be true, the way in which the probes were carried out made them part of a “judicial coup.”

Erdogan told a party rally on Dec. 27 that he would try members of the board of prosecutors and judges “if I had such an authority.”

According to the proposal submitted to parliament yesterday, the justice minister will be able to determine the makeup of the HSYK’s inspection commission and decide on disciplinary action against members of the judiciary. It’s scheduled to be discussed by a subcommittee on Jan. 10.

The Ak Party also may consider changing its self-imposed three-term limit for members of parliament, after which they are required to step down from office, Can said. That rule applies to much of the party’s leadership, including Erdogan, whose third term comes to an end next year.

“You have rules, but if you have exceptional situations, you can make exceptions,” Can said. If the crisis persists “they could make an exception, and I would support this exception. This crisis can’t continue.”

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