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Turkish leader denounces graft investigation
The departing prosecutor, Muammer Akkas, issued a condemnation of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government, accusing it of interfering in the judiciary and preventing him from carrying out his work.
The New York Times
ISTANBUL — An Istanbul prosecutor who had been overseeing a sprawling corruption investigation of the prime minister’s inner circle was removed from the case Thursday in a new sign of a power struggle over Turkey’s judiciary and police forces.
In leaving his position under pressure, the prosecutor, Muammer Akkas, issued a condemnation of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government, accusing it of interfering in the judiciary and preventing him from carrying out his work.
Akkas said the government had prevented police forces from pursuing a new round of suspects in the widening inquiry.
Among those suspects, according to several Turkish news media reports, is Erdogan’s son, whose name was on a summons that was leaked to the news media late Thursday.
“The judiciary has clearly been pressured,” Akkas said in a written statement, accusing his superiors with “committing a crime” for not carrying out arrest warrants and saying that suspects had been allowed to “take precautions, flee and tamper with evidence.”
The prosecutor’s removal came a day after the resignations of three ministers whose sons had been implicated. One, the environment and urban planning minister, Erdogan Bayraktar, broke precedent by calling for the prime minister to resign, too.
Soon afterward, Erdogan announced a broader overhaul of his Cabinet. Although some of the moves had been planned so certain ministers could run in mayoral elections in March, the shake-up was widely seen as an effort to install loyalists around him.
The unfolding scandal has done significant political damage to Erdogan, who has been in power for more than a decade and was widely considered a likely candidate in next summer’s presidential election, which for the first time will be determined by a national vote.
The corruption accusations are centered on claims of bribery involving vast real-estate projects, many of them in Istanbul, that have become a hallmark of Erdogan’s time in power.
No one has been convicted, but several people, including two sons of government ministers, have been arrested, and one of the departing ministers Wednesday said the prime minister had been involved in the real-estate deals facing scrutiny.
As the crisis has deepened, Erdogan has taken to suggesting that the inquiry is a foreign plot; in remarks published Thursday he said he believed that he was the ultimate target of the investigation.
Erdogan told the daily newspaper Hurriyet that those who tried to embroil him in the investigation would be “left empty-handed.” He had made the comments to reporters on a plane as he returned from a visit to Pakistan on Tuesday.
After the prosecutor, Akkas, went public with his accusations of judicial interference, Istanbul’s chief prosecutor, Turhan Colakkadi, made his own remarks, saying Akkas had been let go because he had been leaking information to the news media.
A higher judicial authority, the High Council of Judges and Prosecutors, which appoints judges and prosecutors and oversees disciplinary actions against them, supported Akkas.
The council also condemned a recent government decree that required prosecutors to receive permission for investigations from ministers, calling it a blatant attempt to rein in the inquiry.
The organization said the new decree “violates the Constitution, and those who govern the country are subject to the supervision of the judiciary.”
The prosecutor’s removal Thursday was the newest and most direct step yet in a government purge of police and judiciary officials responsible for the inquiry.
Many officials within Turkey’s police and judiciary establishments are followers of Fethullah Gulen, an Islamic spiritual leader who lives in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania.
Gulen and Erdogan represent competing Islamist traditions and once were partners in dismantling much of the structure of Turkey’s secular state, which ruled for decades with the military as the ultimate power.
Now, the same police and judiciary that pursued the generals — and won, through a series of court cases that put many officers in prison — appear to be pursuing Erdogan’s government.
The investigation became public last week with a series of raids, and subsequent leaks to the news media, and the government has dismissed dozens of police chiefs and many other lower-level officers.
Turkey’s opposition Thursday accused Erdogan of trying to rule via a secretive “deep state,” after the Cabinet reshuffle in which he moved to cement his control over the police by installing a key ally at the powerful Interior Ministry.
Erdogan “is trying to put together a Cabinet that will not show any opposition to him,” Kemal Kilicdaroglu, head of the main opposition party, the Republican People’s Party, said in remarks reported by the Turkish news media.