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FRIDAY, 18 APR 2014
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Turkey's Erdogan says graft probe "dirty operation" against govt
Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan walks near his office in Ankara, Turkey, Wednesday, Dec. 18, 2013.(AP Photo/Burhan Ozbilici)
Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan walks near his office in Ankara, Turkey, Wednesday, Dec. 18, 2013.(AP Photo/Burhan Ozbilici)
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ANKARA: Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Wednesday a corruption probe in which dozens of people have been detained was part of a “dirty operation” against his administration and linked it to a summer of anti-government protests.

“As we fight to make Turkey in the top 10 countries of the world … some are engaged in an effort to halt our fast growth. There are those abroad … and there are extensions of them within our country,” he told a news conference.

Erdogan said police officers removed from their posts in Istanbul Wednesday, a day after the detention of 52 people including the sons of three Cabinet ministers, had been ousted for abuse of office and said more could follow in other cities.

Istanbul police, who are leading a major corruption and bribery investigation targeting Erdogan’s allies, seized shoe boxes stashed with $4.5 million in cash at the home of a state-owned bank’s chief executive, a Turkish news agency reported Wednesday.

Dozens of people, including the bank’s CEO and the sons of three key government ministers, were detained Tuesday for questioning in raids as part of the investigation, which threatens to rock Erdogan’s 11-year tenure.

Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc told reporters that 51 people were being questioned.

Many believe the police operation is the fallout of a deepening rift between Erdogan’s government and a powerful U.S.-based moderate Islamic sheikh, Fethullah Gulen, whose followers are reported to have a strong foothold within Turkey’s police and judiciary.

Police searching the home of Halk Bank’s CEO, Suleyman Aslan, discovered the shoe boxes containing money on his bookshelves, the Dogan news agency reported. It said Aslan’s wife, who was also detained, was heard in a wiretapped telephone conversation as saying “the greens have arrived,” allegedly in reference to dollar bills. Arinc said Aslan’s wife was released late Tuesday.

Dogan, a reliable news source, cited unidentified judicial officials for its report. A national police official said he could not immediately confirm the report, while officials at the Interior Ministry refused comment. Arinc said he had no information on the money that had reportedly been seized. Halk Bank said police had requested information concerning their investigation but had no other comment on the case.

Analysts say the investigation is the latest round of a power struggle between Gulen and Erdogan’s government. The sheikh’s movement long supported Erdogan’s Islamist-based Justice and Development Party but has fallen out with the Turkish leader over his plans to close down private cram schools that are a major source of income for his group.

Arinc, the deputy prime minister, defended the government’s record in fighting corruption and promised it would not impede the investigation.

“We believe that our friends are innocent,” Arinc said. “This does not mean, however, that they will be protected if they have been involved in criminal activity.”

Still, the fact that five senior police officials were removed from duty Wednesday suggested Erdogan was fighting back against the probe. Turkish media reports said they included commissioners in charge of combating organized crime, smuggling and criminal financial activity and who oversaw the corruption detentions.

The investigation comes before local elections in March that are largely seen as a vote of confidence in Erdogan’s government.

Erdogan himself is expected to be a candidate in the presidential election in August.

Turkey’s financial markets have been turbulent since Tuesday’s raids, with the markets sliding and the Turkish lira falling against the dollar.

Police confirmed the sons of three ministers have been held for questioning: Economy Minister Zafer Caglayan, Interior Minister Muammer Guler and Environment and Urban Planning Minister Erdogan Bayraktar.

Opposition parties have demanded that the three ministers resign and criticized the dismissal of the five police chiefs, calling it an attempt to cover up the scandal.

Arinc didn’t say whether the ministers planned to resign or would be removed from their positions.

“You will soon see what will happen,” he told reporters. 

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