|Four former government ministers indicted on serious corruption charges L-R: Egemen Bağış, Muammer Güler Erdoğan Bayraktar & front far right Zafer Çağlayan|
With parliament currently in recess due to the upcoming local elections on 30 March, Speaker Cemil Çiçek confirmed on Friday that he had recalled the general assembly in line with due parliamentary process. It came after CHP, supported by the other opposition parties, had demanded parliament reconvenes to discuss summary proceedings against former Economy Minister Zafer Çağlayan, former EU Minister Egemen Bağış, former Interior Minister Muammer Güler and former Urbanization and Environment Planning Minister Erdoğan Bayraktar.
The graft scandal first broke on 17 December, when police raided homes of various government officials and leading businessmen known to be close to the government who were suspected of corruption, bribery and tender-rigging. Police found shoe boxes stuffed full of $4.5 million in cash in the home of the chief executive of the state-run Halk Bank; a money-counting machine and piles of bank notes were also discovered in the bedroom of a government minister’s son.
Details of the corruption allegations and those indicted have not been made public. However speculation has been rife in Turkish newspapers since December, with many citing prosecutors' documents that the charges relate to construction projects, government tenders and
gold trade with . Iran
|Graft scandal biggest challenge to Erdoğan’s authority in past 11 years|
A second wave of the graft scandal emerged in February when a series of illegally wiretapped telephone conversations were made public via the internet. Some are allegedly of Erdoğan telling his son to hide large sums of money, which the prime minster has vehemently rejected as “a montage”. In other recordings, which Erdoğan has accepted are real, he is heard to be interfering in judicial matters, defence tenders and the coverage of opposition leaders on a mainstream TV news channel.
The government continues to deny any wrongdoing, claiming the raids and leaked wiretappings were orchestrated by Islamic cleric Fethullah Gülen, once a close ally of Erdoğan, as part of a plot to smear the prime minister and bring down his government.
Gülen, who has lived in voluntary exile in the
USA since 1999, is said to have extensive
influence in 's
police and judiciary. He and his followers are thought to have helped put
dozens of senior Turkish military personnel in jail through the infamous
Ergenekon cases using what is now increasingly believed to be fabricated
Erdoğan has described the police raids as, “a dirty operation” and since December, his government has launched a purge against prosecutors and judges said to be loyal to Gülen, removing thousands of people from their posts. Using its large parliamentary majority, AKP has also pushed through new laws that give the government greater influence in the appointment of judges and prosecutors. It follows demands that police chiefs inform the government in advance of any future raids.
The reforms have prompted widespread concern inside and outside of
about the rule of law and the separation of powers. The graft scandal has
become the biggest challenge to Erdoğan’s authority since coming into office 11
years ago. It follows the large anti-government Gezi uprising last summer. Turkey