ISTANBUL: Turkish authorities Tuesday detained dozens of police officers accused of illegally wire-tapping top officials including Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in a new wave of arrests just days ahead of presidential elections.
The new swoop came after over 100 people were arrested last month – of whom 31 were remanded in custody and charged – in an eavesdropping scandal linked to a dispute between Erdogan and a former ally turned opponent.
In the latest sweep, at least 33 police officers were detained in 14 provinces across the country, Turkish federal television channels reported.
The operation started with an early morning raid on a police lodging in Istanbul, but raids were also carried out in cities in the Kurdish-majority southeast including Diyarbakir.
Television pictures showed police being led away by plain clothes officers from their residences but the names of those arrested were not immediately disclosed.
Turkish news reports said those arrested were less senior than those netted in the last raids July 22, who included two former heads of the anti-terror department in Istanbul.
The arrests appeared to represent a new sweep against the movement of Erdogan’s former ally Fethullah Gulen in the wake of a vast corruption scandal that broke late last year implicating the prime minister and his inner circle.
Much of the evidence for the corruption allegations – which were vehemently denied by Erdogan – was obtained through wire-tapping.
A total of 31 police officers arrested in the first wave were charged last week with a number of offenses including forming and running a criminal gang, espionage, illegal wire-tapping and forgery in official documents.
The new detentions came just ahead of Sunday’s polls, when Turkey will for the first time vote directly for its next president with Erdogan looking set to continue more than a decade of domination by becoming head of state.
Erdogan has long accused followers of Gulen of establishing a “parallel state” by using its sway in Turkey’s police and the judiciary and of concocting the vast corruption scandal.
Some of the police officers had been sacked by Erdogan’s government in a spectacular purge earlier this year.
The head of the opposition People’s Republican Party (CHP), Kemal Kilicdaroglu, slammed the timing of the raids as political and said it was Erdogan himself who should be brought to account.
“For some reason, such operations are being carried out before the elections,” he told reporters, quoted by the Dogan news agency.
Repeating the corruption allegations against Erdogan, he added: “Erdogan thinks that people will forget this because of the elections. But you cannot escape.”
In a curious development, an anonymous user on Twitter using an account @Fuatavni had leaked the plans for the raids Monday evening, correctly predicting the numbers who would be arrested and where.
The account was blocked by authorities but the user appeared to have predicted this, telling followers to follow from another account.
Gulen, who lives in exile in Pennsylvania but whose movement enjoyed great influence in the security services and schools, released a new video message denying his movement was a “parallel state.”
“Whoever is a gang, whoever is a ring, whoever is an armed organization, whoever wants to harm this nation ... let God damn him,” he said.