Turkey delays decision on ministers accused of corruption

Burak Akinci
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Turkey's ex-ministers Zafer Caglayan (R-L), Erdogan Bayraktar, Muammer Guler and Egemen Bagis in Ankara on December 24, 2013

Turkey's ex-ministers Zafer Caglayan (R-L), Erdogan Bayraktar, Muammer Guler and Egemen Bagis in Ankara on December 24, 2013 (AFP Photo/Adem Altan)

Ankara (AFP) - A Turkish parliamentary commission on Monday unexpectedly delayed until January a decision on whether four former Turkish cabinet ministers will stand trial on accusations of corruption that rocked the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The parliamentary commission must decide whether or not to send the cases to the Supreme Council court, which only hears cases against cabinet ministers and other top officials.

Its months-long deliberations were expected to end with a ruling Monday but the decision was postponed until January 5, the official Anatolia news agency reported.

Former interior minister Muammer Guler, ex-environment minister Erdogan Bayraktar, ex-economy minister Zafer Caglayan and ex-EU affairs minister Egemen Bagis face accusations of bribery and influence-peddling.

Caglayan was also accused of accepting a $300,000 (245,000 euro) luxury watch to facilitate the smuggling of gold to Iran in breach of international sanctions.

The postponement of the decision came after the ex-ministers filed written protests about the report submitted to Turkey's financial crimes investigations board for the commission.

Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said there was no need for "unnecessary speculation" about the postponement and the commission should be allowed to finish its work.

The four suspects resigned in the wake of a corruption probe launched last December which Erdogan angrily blamed on his ally-turned-foe, the US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen.

He accused Gulen of concocting the graft scandal and spreading leaks in social media to topple the government of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).

Erdogan has vowed no mercy in the fight against Gulen and the authorities have over the last year effectively purged the police force and judiciary to rid them of pro-Gulenist elements.

Thirty police, journalists and scriptwriters were arrested earlier this month in the latest of a string of raids that have provoked a major rift with the EU.

A court also issued an arrest warrant for Gulen himself although there appears for now little chance of his extradition from the US.

- 'Break their arms' -

The scandal broke on December 17, 2013 when the sons of Guler, Bayraktar and Caglayan were detained by police, as well as pro-AKP figures like the CEO of Halkbank Suleyman Aslan and construction tycoon Ali Agaoglu.

All were subsequently released. Prosecutors have since dropped the criminal case against 53 people due to a "lack of evidence", provoking howls of protest from the opposition.

The corruption scandal also touched Erdogan himself, after leaked tapes emerged in February where he allegedly told his son Bilal to dispose of some 30 million euros ($37 million) in cash on the day of the December 17 police raids.

Erdogan has dismissed the recordings as a "vile montage".

All four ministers protested their innocence when they appeared before the parliamentary commission, whose decision will be rubber-stamped by a plenary session of parliament in January.

A parliamentary source had told AFP on condition of anonymity earlier that the AKP, which holds the majority in parliament, was leaning towards sending the case of the ministers to court.

"With the parliamentary elections looming (in June), the authorities want to show that they are fighting corruption and can therefore try their own."

Davutoglu told an AKP congress on Sunday that he had a zero tolerance on corruption, saying the authorities will "break the arm" of anyone involved in graft "even if it is our own brother".

If parliament decides to send the cases for trial, it will be heard by Turkey's rarely-used Supreme Council court, known in Turkish as the Yuce Divan.

The court is in effect the country's usual highest instance, the consitutional court, but uses a different name when it is called upon to try former ministers.