Prosecutor removed from new graft probe amid concerns of cover-up
Prosecutor Muammer Akkaş, who was removed from a corruption investigation, said that he was under pressure and was prevented from doing his job. (Photo: Today's Zaman)
In yet another blow to an ongoing corruption investigation involving government officials, public prosecutor Muammer Akkaş, who was overseeing one branch of the corruption investigation, was removed from the operation on Thursday. The prosecutor claimed that he had been prevented from performing his duty in the investigation.
Akkaş, who is known for his work on sensitive cases such as the Ergenekon coup plot and the murder of Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink, was removed from the investigation by İstanbul Deputy Chief Public Prosecutor Oktay Erdoğan on the grounds that he had violated the confidentiality of the investigation.
Akkaş was leading the investigation that is seen as the second phase of a graft probe that has led to the resignations of three ministers whose sons were detained last week due to their alleged involvement in corruption.
The prosecutor's removal came only a day after he had ordered the detention of 30 suspects, including a number of deputies and businessmen. The İstanbul Police Department, which has seen an extensive purge of its top officers in the last week, did not comply with the detention order.
Following his removal, Akkaş gave copies of a written statement to reporters outside İstanbul's Çağlayan Courthouse on Thursday. The statement complained about the pressure he had experienced not to pursue the investigation.
He said he had been carrying out an investigation into some individuals well-known to the public and some bureaucrats who were allegedly involved in crimes including corruption, bribery and tender-rigging for a long time. Akkaş said he shared the details of the dossier with İstanbul Chief Public Prosecutor Turan Çolakkadı and Deputy Chief Public Prosecutor Erdoğan on Tuesday before taking any action, after he realized that the investigation had been leaked to the media and efforts to tamper with evidence had been made.
Akkaş added that although he issued detention and search warrants for the suspects and relayed these to the İstanbul Police Department on Wednesday morning, the police department had not complied with his orders.
“All my colleagues and the public should know that as a public prosecutor I was prevented from carrying out the investigation,” he said, adding that pressure had clearly been placed on the judiciary both from the Public Prosecutor's Office and the police, allowing an opportunity for suspects to destroy the evidence.
He said that he expects the judiciary to stand up for judicial independence during this difficult process.
Early media reports claimed that the investigation concerns al-Qaeda operations in Turkey as well as business deals in which deputies and public officials are involved.
Akkaş sent the order to detain the 30 suspects to the İstanbul Police Department on Wednesday morning. The police, however, did not comply by assigning a team to carry out the operation.
The government has so far removed or reassigned hundreds of police officers involved in the investigation, leading to concerns about a cover-up of the investigation.
The İstanbul Chief Public Prosecutor's Office has launched an investigation into those police officers who refused to carry out the detention order. The Turkish media have reported that the latest probe involves allegations against İstanbul Governor Hüseyin Avni Mutlu, İstanbul Police Chief Selami Altınok and chief of the İstanbul Police Department's financial crimes unit, Hakan Sıralı, of insubordination, violation of the confidentiality of an investigation and aiding and abetting a criminal.
The magnitude of the corruption into which the first investigation was launched one and a half years ago is alleged to be around $100 billion. The prosecutor's office is closely investigating 28 large tenders and fraudulent transactions. There are allegedly serious accusations against individuals including relatives of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan as well as bureaucrats and businessmen.
The investigation into corruption, tender-rigging, unlawful gains and bribery allegations began in March 2012. The alleged crimes include: “The transfer of lands with a value of billions of dollars at very low prices, seizure of mines from businessmen by force, rigging tenders, receiving bribes of $100 million each from five businessmen in return for tenders, giving businesses worth billions of dollars to some businessmen unlawfully, changing the status of protected areas through bribery, opening these up to construction and making giant profits out of them.”
Investigation was exposed
After dozens of police chiefs and police officers were fired and replaced with others in the wake of the initial corruption and bribery investigation, the government was then informed of the other investigation. Justice Minister Sadullah Ergin, who handed his post to Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdağ in a Cabinet reshuffle on Wednesday, had allegedly placed heavy pressure on İstanbul Chief Public Prosecutor Turan Çolakkadı to terminate the corruption investigation. The unexpected appointment of a new Telecommunications Directorate (TİB) head several days ago was said to have been a way of providing the government with details of the investigation.
One hour after Akkaş's delivery of a written statement to the press, İstanbul Chief Public Prosecutor Çolakkadı spoke to reporters to deny claims that he had received orders to obstruct the investigation from the justice minister.
He said public prosecutors should inform deputy chief public prosecutors about major investigations immediately, or else there will be chaos, while some prosecutors have been carrying out investigations for two years without the knowledge of their superiors.
“Prosecutors cannot launch investigations at random. If they do not conduct investigations in compliance with the law, they are removed and the investigations are given to other prosecutors,” he said.
In addition to Ergin, Prime Ministry Undersecretary Efkan Ala, who became the new interior minister following a Cabinet reshuffle on Wednesday, is said to be making a concerted effort to end the investigation and place pressure on the police's financial crimes unit.
In the meantime, the new head of the police's financial crimes unit,Sıralı, who refused to comply with prosecutor Akkaş's order to detain the 30 suspects, was allegedly at İstanbul's Çağlayan courthouse all day on Wednesday, but neither he nor other police chiefs responded to the prosecutor's instructions.
Commenting on the situation, former public prosecutor Ahmet Gündel told Today's Zaman: “When a police chief does not comply with the orders of a prosecutor, he or she has committed the crime of an abuse of duty and obstruction of a judicial investigation. If the obstruction is made intentionally, it will have political and judicial consequences.”
Newly appointed Justice Minister Bozdağ on Thursday did not make any comment on efforts to obstruct the ongoing corruption investigation.
Following are the allegations.
The grounds of Etiler Police School, the only empty plot in Etiler, with a value of $1 billion, was sold to a company for $460 million with no public bidding. The state sustained a financial loss of $600 million in this sale. Including planned construction on the site, the financial loss to the state may have reached several billion dollars.
The same company waited only one month for a mining license in a forested area of Sultanbeyli Paşaköy although the Forestry Ministry had denied all such permission in that area for some time previously. In return for the mining license, which had a value of $10 billion, one of the suspects became a 50 percent partner in the business without paying the company's owner. After some time, the owner left the partnership and the company was taken over by the other partner, who had paid nothing.
In order to purchase newspapers and TV channels owned by a media group, some businessmen paid $100 million each to certain suspects in the investigation.
A piece of land in the Üçağaç neighborhood of İstanbul's Pendik district was sold by the Kadıköy 3rd Enforcement and Bankruptcy Directorate at a discount. Before the land was offered up to bidding, bogus companies were created and only they were allowed to compete for the tender.
A plot found in the Zeytinli neighborhood of İzmir's Urla district, a first-degree protected area at the time, had its status unlawfully demoted to that of a third-degree area. However, construction began on the land even before it was opened up to such development.
Rigging was involved in the tender of the Mecidiyeköy-Mahmutbey Metro Line. Several days before the tender, the managers of several companies came together and set the offers they would make in the tender.
As they were being returned to state ownership, a company was given a tender for the renovation of 14 power plants.
In return for bribes, the work of businessmen experiencing legal obstacles in the construction sector has been facilitated. Under the guise of donations, the businessmen bribed politicians' relatives to take state tenders.
Public land was unlawfully transferred to a foundation through political means. Examples include land belonging to İstanbul Gas Distribution Industry and Trade Inc. (İGDAŞ) and the İstanbul Transportation Authority (İETT). Because of plans to construct a hotel on private land next to public land that had been transferred to the foundation, an attempt was made to acquire the private land through threats.
Rigging was involved in the tender for the rental of the “Büfe-Büvet-Café” businesses to be opened in Yenikapı Station as part of the Marmaray project. The authorities' suspicions about an investigation were confirmed through the TİB and there was a pause in the rigging activities.
A company was informed in advance of the desired bid for the construction of a road between Viranşehir and Kızıltepe in southeastern Turkey, so the tender was rigged in this manner.
Confidential information about the Ankara-İstanbul High-Speed Train Project tender was also shared by some involved in the project.