Graft prosecutor says threatened by officials dispatched by Erdoğan
Prosecutor Zekeriya Öz (Photo: Today's Zaman, İsa Şimşek)
İstanbul Prosecutor Zekeriya Öz, who was leading one branch of a major ongoing corruption investigation, has said he was threatened by two high-level jurists dispatched by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, adding that the officials called on the prosecutor to apologize to the prime minister through a letter.
In a written statement that appeared in the Turkish media on Wednesday, prosecutor Öz said the officials warned him to not proceed further with the corruption probe and end it, threatening that he would otherwise face dire consequences.
Öz said he met with the officials at a hotel in the western province of Bursa.
"The people from the judiciary sent by the prime minister told me the prime minister is very angry about me. They asked me to halt the investigation and to write a letter of apology to the prime minister," Öz said about the content of the meeting at the hotel.
In the meantime, Prime Minister Erdoğan, who is currently in Japan for an official trip, rejected the claim as slander.
On Tuesday, Öz was removed from the graft probe and has been reassigned to a position at the Bakırköy Courthouse in İstanbul.
The 1st Chamber of the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK) reached a surprise decision by reassigning the prosecutor amid the ongoing graft investigation that has prompted the resignation of three Cabinet ministers.
The board's decision came only hours after the HSYK launched an investigation into Öz over claims that the prosecutor had taken a lavish vacation to Dubai with seven of his friends, with the bill allegedly paid by a construction company.
As claims about Öz's alleged lavish vacation to Dubai still circulate amongst the national media, prosecutor Öz reiterated his denial, saying that a vacation to Dubai with his family amounted to only $4,250 and that he paid the bill for it himself, despite claims that the trip had cost TL 77,000 ($35,000) and was paid for by a Turkish construction company, the owner of which was taken into custody as part of the recent graft probe.
The pro-government Sabah daily ran a story on Sunday describing Öz as the prosecutor who "launched the defamation campaign against the government through a corruption investigation," and alleged that the prosecutor had gone on an expensive vacation in Dubai with his friends. According to the daily, a construction company paid a bill of TL 77,000 ($35,000) for the trip.
Öz said in the statement that if the claim that he went abroad 22 times is proven, then he would resign from his post, but that he would expect the same thing from those who claimed otherwise if their claim turns out to be wrong.
In a meeting with journalists at his office in İstanbul's Dolmabahçe Palace at the weekend, Erdoğan accused the prosecutor, without providing a name, of taking 22 vacations abroad in a year.
Prosecutor Öz strongly denied the claim, saying that he had never been abroad 22 times in a year.
Öz also said that he is preparing criminal complaints regarding the news circulating in the media on the claims about his Dubai visit. “I will also file criminal complaints against some people who gave the information wrongfully to the prime minister about my entrance and exits abroad,” added Öz.
On the claims that he was on a safari on Sept. 21, Öz said in the morning of Sept. 21 he was at work in İstanbul.
“I do not know how the invoices [for Öz's vacation, as reported in Sabah] were drawn up. The dates I stayed and my plane tickets are certain. The information and credit card number in the invoice shown for food expenses in the hotel do not belong to me. The alleged safari invoice is for the day I left Dubai. Regarding food expenses, my family and I prefer to eat in more affordable places outside hotels,” said Öz, as reported by the T24 news portal on Tuesday.
According to T24, the Interior Ministry has taken back the private vehicle previously allocated for Öz's bodyguards and will reduce the number of bodyguards protecting him, of which there are currently five. It was also reported that Öz will publish the documents, invoices and plane tickets pertaining to his Dubai vacation.
In a statement he released on Monday, Öz already denied claims that the vacation's bill was footed by a constriction firm. Öz said he went to Dubai with his family and paid for the trip himself.
Ali Ağaoğlu, a well-known business tycoon who was released pending trial in the major graft probe, however, claimed that his firm had paid for Öz's stay in Dubai.
In a written statement published by the Hürriyet daily, Ağaoğlu, who is among the chief suspects in the investigation into alleged bribery and tender-rigging, said his firm's Dubai regional representative had received approval from company executives to cover the cost of Öz's vacation.
Full text of Prosecutor Öz's press statement:
Statement about recent allegations about me
I felt the need to make the following statement with a written permission from the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK) in connection with the allegations voiced by the media outlets in an ever-increasing intensity in what amounted to be a campaign for discrediting me in the wake of the investigations launched and conducted by the Chief Public Prosecutor's Office, known to the public as the graft probe.
1) First of all, contrary to what Prime Minister initially told to the press and what certain newspapers claimed later, I have never gone abroad for 22 times so far. The truth will be uncovered by the HSYK which is authorized to conduct an investigation about me under the Law numbered 2802. I hereby declare that I will resign from my profession on the same day if it is proven that I have traveled abroad for 22 times to date. If this claim is found to be baseless, I expect those who made those allegations to behave in the same manner.
2) The state authorities keep records about exits from and entries to a country made by a person, and these records can be queried only in case of an investigation. The newspaper reports have revealed that the records about my travels abroad were queried without authorization and in an unlawful manner without a judicial or administrative investigation about me and these records which constitute my personal data were conveyed to Prime Minister (after distorting the facts) and Prime Minister made these records public. I will seek legal actions against the public authorities who queried my records in an unauthorized manner as well as those who made them public in an unlawful manner as these acts are defined as reprehensible acts under Articles 134, 136, 137 and 257 of the Turkish Penal Code (TCK).
3) The fact that these official records were exaggerated and distorted before being made public is enough to show the sheer magnitude of the hostility that targets me as I strive to fulfill my duties in accordance with laws.
4) The claim that I took a vacation in Dubai between October 16 and 22 and that the expenses for this vacation that amounted to TL 77,500 was paid by businessman Ali Ağaoğlu.
a) As it will be understood during the investigation to be conducted by the HSYK, I, my family and a colleague of mine entered the hotel in Dubai on October 17, 2013 and left on October 20, 2013. This vacation was organized by my close friend Halil İbrahim Demirhan, whom I know for five years. Halil İbrahim Demirhan is a businessman who lives and is popular in Dubai. So far he has never requested any assistance about judicial matters from me.
Thus, Ali Ağaoğlu, a suspect in the investigation known to the public as the graft probe, has nothing to do with the vacation. I didn't meet him before or after the travel.
b) In Dubai, we were greeted and hosted by Halil İbrahim Demirhan's brother İdris Demirhan.
c) I bought the flight tickets with cash money from a travel agency and the ticket for the son of my colleagues who decided to accompany us later was bought with his credit card.
d) All expenses for the vacation were paid by me and my colleague who accompanied me.
e) Contrary to the claims, we didn't order any meal from the room service at the hotel. Breakfast is included in the hotel fees, and during our three-day stay at the hotel, we ate only one meal.
f) The hotel fees were not as high as reported by the media. The total cost of the vacation was $4,150 for my and my family and $3,500 for my colleague and his family. The related documents and information will be submitted to the authorities during the investigation.
h) The invoices and other documents referred to in the news reports are not authentic; how they were issued will be determined upon investigation. Given that it was impossible for me to stay in the hotel if I was still in my home country, these documents are unauthentic and they were issued to undermine my image. It is interesting to observe that the institutions which are supposed to perform their duties prescribed by law and their administrators have spent efforts to procure these documents and leak them to some media outlets.
5- Before these allegations on me were announced by the Prime Minister, two persons holding judicial positions whom I knew before and respected dearly told me that the prime minister was very mad at me, that he made strong statements about me, that I should send a letter to him and offer an apology, that the investigations against the government should be stopped immediately, otherwise, there would be grave repercussions and that me visiting the police department made everybody mad. I told these valuable persons who brought this threatening message to me that the investigation was being conducted by me and other prosecutors who were doing their jobs in accordance with the laws, that many suspects were placed under arrest in light of strong evidence, that there are substantiated charges, that I visited the police department because I received a notice suggesting that the newly appointed staff changed the questions to be asked to the suspects, that I received the questions to be asked in a sealed envelope, that the worst thing that could happen to me is that I could die and that even this would become an honor to me because I would be considered a martyr of this profession. I was told that I would be hurt because of this response. Afterwards, I was also told that I should talk to the prosecutors who were conducting investigation in connection with the legal case, publicly known as second corruption operation, and interfere with the process and that I should help on this matter. I responded saying that I had no information on that investigation and that it was being conducted by the authorized prosecutors in accordance with article 10 of counterterrorism law. One day after this meeting, Prime Minister voiced baseless allegations against me. Some media outlets launched a campaign against me after this; and these media organs still attack me. And they do not publish the disclaimers I sent to them.
6- After this meeting, the armored vehicle assigned to me was taken away without prior notice on 6 January 2014. Anything that could happen to me or my family in the aftermath of the removal of this armed vehicle that was assigned to me because of countless threats I received because of my role in the Ergenekon investigation will be the responsibility of those who carried out these irregularities.
7- The fact that all the assets of the owners of some of the papers which constantly publish unsubstantiated allegations on me were frozen by legal verdict as part of the investigation also known as second corruption operation refers to the actual reason for all these that happened.
8- It is evident that the pressure upon me will be mounted given that I was reappointed without waiting for the outcome of the inquiry into the unsubstantiated allegations based on the untrue media reports.
9- I hold our dear people witness to new threats to me and to my entire family in addition to those raised in connection with the Ergenekon investigation that was started when hand grenades were seized in a slum house in Ümraniye and to the fact that these threats are now being made by the circles which have become stronger in the presence of a peaceful environment after the legal action against the activities of the Ergenekon terror organization.
10- I should also note that after all these developments, I started writing my memoirs in respect to illegal and adversarial demands directed at me during the Ergenekon investigation. I would like to stress that everybody should know that as it has been the case up until now, I will not be intimidated by unjust acts and that I will, without fear, go after acts of corruption and illegality by remaining within the boundaries of law.
I respectfully submit to the information of the public.