Turkish Prime Minister could expel Ambassadors over graft investigation arrests
Turkey’s PM warns he could expel ambassadors over graft probe arrests
PM Tayyip Erdogan accuses foreign ambassadors in Turkey of involvement in “provocative actions” amid a widening graft probe in which 24 people, including the sons of two ministers, have been charged
By AFP10:43AM GMT 21 Dec 2013
The sons of the Turkish interior and economy ministers were charged and placed in custody early Saturday in connection with a graft probe that has tarnished Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
The chief executive of state-owned Halkbank, Suleyman Aslan, and Azerbaijani businessman Reza Zarrab were also charged in connection with the scandal, private NTV and CNN-Turk televisions reported.
“These recent days, very strangely, ambassadors get involved in some provocative acts,” Mr Erdogan told supporters in the Black Sea province Samsun. I am calling on them from here, do your job, if you leave your area of duty, this could extend into our government’s area of jurisdiction. We do not have to keep you in our country.”
Judges in Istanbul charged the sons of Interior Minister Muammer Guler and Economy Minister Zafer Caglayan with acting as intermediaries in order to give and take bribes, the Hurriyet newspaper reported without elaborating.
Zarrab was charged with forming a ring that bribed officials to disguise illegal gold sales to sanctions-hit Iran via Halkbank, Hurriyet said.
Aslan was charged with taking bribes, the newspaper said without elaborating.
It was the first time that such a large scandal has hit those close to Erdogan who has run Turkey since 2002 as the head of a conservative Islamic-leaning government.
The crisis erupted Tuesday when police arrested scores of people in a series of dawn raids.
Among those detained were Aslan as well as the sons of the interior and economy ministers and that of Environment Minister Erdogan Bayraktar.
But Bayraktar’s son was released overnight Friday after hours of questioning by prosecutors and judges. The mayor of Istanbul’s conservative Fatih municipality, Mustafa Demir, as well as construction tycoon Ali Agaoglu were also released.
The crisis has rattled the stock market and sent the Turkish lira to an all-time low.
Since the scandal broke, Erdogan has sacked dozens of police officials, including the Istanbul police chief, for cooperating with the investigation without permission.
Turkish media said another 17 were fired on Friday alone, amid a widening purge of the police command.
Erdogan’s critics accuse him of desperately trying to protect his cronies, and the appointment of Selami Altinok, a little-known governor with no police career, as Istanbul’s new police chief was further seen as an attempt to shut down the investigation.
Altinok raised eyebrows when he landed in Istanbul on Thursday in the premier’s private jet.
The Erdogan government’s allegation of a plot against it echoes its reaction to mass protests that shook the country in June, when a police crackdown on a peaceful sit-in against plans to raze an Istanbul park sparked huge demonstrations against the prime minister and his party.
At least six people died and 8,000 were hurt in three weeks of protests.