New prosecutor clears 60 in graft probe despite grave suspicions
Sunday, 04 May 2014 , Written by « todayszaman »   

The İstanbul Chief Public Prosecutor's Office ruled on Friday that there are no grounds for legal action against 60 suspects -- including a former minister's son and a pro-government owner of a construction company -- in the Housing Development Administration of Turkey (TOKİ) file of the corruption and bribery investigation that become public on Dec. 17, 2013.

The graft investigation was carried out by Prosecutor Ekrem Aydıner, who was assigned to deal with the graft probe after the other few prosecutors who launched the probe had been removed from the case in a controversial move.

The suspects include former Environment and Urban Planning Minister Erdoğan Bayraktar's son Abdullah Oğuz Bayraktar and construction mogul Ali Ağaoğlu.

The suspects are included in the TOKİ branch of the major graft probe but the decision that there are no grounds for legal action against the suspects means that the claims of corruption and bribery in TOKİ deals will no longer be investigated.

Aydıner said that the evidence used to implicate the suspects in corruption and bribery was illegally obtained. “Unlimited methods which are against the law and ignore defendants' rights cannot be pursued in order to obtain hard facts in criminal procedures,” said Aydıner, maintaining that evidence acquired via wiretaps conducted without a court order is illegal.

Former Minister Bayraktar's son was detained as part of the corruption investigation but was later released pending trial. The minister announced his resignation on Dec. 25 of last year during a televised program on NTV, a week after his son had been detained in the probe which involved bureaucrats, businessmen and the sons of three ministers. He said that he decided to quit both as a minister and as a deputy. The primary investigation is continuing into allegations of bribes paid to top Turkish officials by a criminal gang helping Iran to exploit a loophole in the West's sanctions regime against the Islamic republic. Using the loophole, Iran was for a time able to purchase gold with oil and gas revenues. The Iran gold case has been the main focus of interest in the graft scandal, given the international dimension and the broader accusations of corruption against three former ministers and the head of a public bank. All the accused have denied wrongdoing. Those questioned in the initial sweep in the construction case included the mayor of İstanbul's Fatih municipality, which includes the city's historic peninsula, and Murat Kurum, the general manager of real estate firm Emlak Konut GYO, partly owned by state housing developer TOKİ.

After the prosecutor office's decision not to prosecute, main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu said that the decision came as no surprise as the prosecutors and judges who were in charge in the investigation have been removed from their posts. Speaking to reporters in İstanbul on Friday, Kılıçdaroğlu stressed that graft probe investigations would not end in a way that the public would like.

On the morning of Dec. 17, Turkey woke up to news of a bribery and corruption operation in which simultaneous operations were launched in İstanbul and Ankara after an investigation that included allegations of illegal construction in protected zones along with bribery and money laundering.

The operations, which were carried out on the orders of the İstanbul Public Prosecutor's Office, resulted in the arrest of 49 people, including Barış Güler, the son of former Interior Minister Muammer Güler, Salih Kaan Çağlayan, the son of former Economy Ministry Zafer Çağlayan, Iranian businessman Reza Zarrab, Halkbank General Director Süleyman Aslan, Fatih Municipality Mayor Mustafa Demir, Abdullah Oğuz Bayraktar and Ali Ağaoğlu. In addition, the Financial Crimes Investigation Board (MASAK) also sent a report to the İstanbul Police Department regarding suspicious money transfers.

The government has intensified its efforts to stall the investigations since the operation on Dec. 17 and thousands of public officials, mostly in police departments and the judiciary, have been reassigned. Later, a controversial bill on the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK), which subordinates the entire judiciary to the government, was passed by Parliament.

On Dec. 18 of last year, five police department heads in charge of the anti-corruption operation were removed from their positions. Later, the removal of certain officials from their positions took place in other cities, and on the same day 33 police chiefs were removed from their posts. The interventions, it turned out, were not limited to the police. On Dec. 26, prosecutor Muammer Akkaş was removed from the corruption, bribery and money laundering operation that had begun over a year earlier. Akkaş said that he had been “prevented from carrying out this investigation.”

In Jan. 16 of this year, Justice Minister Bekir Bozdağ reshuffled the first chamber of the HSYK and then relocated 20 İstanbul prosecutors. The HSYK then removed 19 prosecutors and one judge from a variety of cases they had been following and overseeing, including the Ergenekon and Balyoz coup trials and the corruption investigation.


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