January 24, 2015

Gov’t claim of cheating on exam aimed at diverting public’s attention, past record reveals

A government-propagated claim saying the faith-based Gülen movement was involved in cheating on an exam that is obligatory for public service appears to be principally aimed, as was the case with previous operations against the police, at diverting the attention of the public from sweeping allegations of corruption that have made the government feel cornered.

Claims regarding a cheating scandal surrounding the 2010 State Personnel Examination (KPSS) were recently brought forward by some government officials, coinciding with a period in which the government is under harsh criticism from the opposition over favoritism and nepotism.

Documents obtained by Sunday's Zaman regarding the 2010 cheating scandal have revealed a plot to unjustly frame members of the Gülen movement, which is also called the Hizmet movement.

According to the documents, the claims appear to be an operation to manipulate public perception by blaming the cheating on members of the movement by using fabricated or planted evidence that was added to the case file later.

Claims emerged that a copy of the KPSS questions had been obtained before the exam day and that they had been shared among thousands of candidates. The investigation into the claims seemed to go nowhere for five years, and no government official has resigned over the allegations except one. However, the government has recently renewed its enthusiasm and revived its focus on the cheating allegations.

The plot to frame the movement was made public when a government whistleblower using the pseudonym Fuat Avni said the government was preparing to permanently lift the KPSS exam requirement for public service, in a move seen by many as a way to open the door for the recruitment of people close to the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party).

The main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) recently exposed nepotism within the ruling party in three consecutive press meetings by revealing the names of dozens of people who were hired by various state agencies without taking the obligatory KPSS.

Turkish Public Workers' Labor Union (Kamu-Sen) Secretary-General Fahrettin Yokuş recently alleged that the number of those who have been recruited by state institution in such a way is estimated to be as high as 20,000.

The claim that the government is preparing to remove the compulsory exam in order to employ sympathizers of the ruling party in civil service was also reported in the Taraf daily at the beginning of last week.

According to the report, a two-page document presented to President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan states that the KPSS must be removed because most candidates who are affiliated with the ruling party received low scores on the exam and were therefore disqualified from being considered for government jobs.

The report listed a number of steps as part of a public relations campaign to ensure that media outlets controlled or subsidized by the government run stories to discredit the KPSS system. The document stipulated that the media should publish articles portraying the KPSS system as not being secure and to rehash old claims of exam cheating from five years ago, the report said.

If the obligation to take the KPSS exam is eliminated, candidates will only have to take an internal exam at state institutions and undergo an interview process, potentially enabling the practice of nepotism and favoritism in the hiring process.

There have been several cases since two sweeping graft probes went public in December of 2013 that reveal that the government has used police operations against dissidents in order to distract the public's attention from a range of allegations.

A police operation carried out on media outlets on Dec. 14 of last year can be taken as another case in point. The operation came just days before the first anniversary of the breaking of the two graft probes -- as a result of which four Cabinet ministers left their posts -- in an apparent move to overshadow the activities opposition groups, which were planning to bring claims of corruption under the spotlight on the occasion of the anniversary of the government corruption scandal.

Voice recordings leaked on the Internet following the probes, which feature Erdoğan and his son Bilal, revealed that Erdoğan and some of his family members were also involved in corruption, although then-Prime Minister Erdoğan claimed the voice recordings were doctored.

On Dec. 14 of last year, a total of almost 30 people -- mostly high-ranking media personnel, directors, producers of popular television serials and police officers -- were taken into custody by the police on charges of being part of a terrorist organization in relation to a TV series that was broadcast years ago on the Samanyolu TV channel.

Ekrem Dumanlı, editor-in-chief of Turkey's best-selling daily Zaman, and Samanyolu Broadcasting Group General Manager Hidayet Karaca were among those detained.

The Zaman daily and the Samanyolu TV station are among media outlets that have been critical of the government for alleged corruption.

After spending several days in custody, only Karaca and three former police officers were arrested, while the other suspects were released by the court pending trial. This is perhaps the first time in history that a TV manager has been imprisoned for airing a soap opera allegedly linked with a terrorist organization.

The operation has largely been viewed as a politically motivated crackdown on media critical of the ruling party, while the opposition and media representatives blasted the operation for undermining the freedom of the press.

The Dec. 14 police operation is purportedly aimed at targeting a so-called “parallel structure,” which Erdoğan has accused of being behind the graft probes.

Police operations synchronized with voting on graft suspects

On Jan 5, the day a parliamentary commission established to look into claims of corruption was to deliver its verdict on whether the four ex-ministers should be referred to a top court for trial, 32 police officers were detained on charges of illegal wiretapping in simultaneous dawn raids conducted based on investigations in the provinces of Gaziantep and Şanlıurfa.

Following several days in custody, all 22 suspects detained as part of the investigation in Gaziantep were released pending trial, while only three of a total of 14 suspects in the Şanlıurfa operation were arrested.

It was no surprise, then, when reports appeared very early on Jan. 20, the day Parliament was to vote on whether the four ex-ministers should stand in court, that many police chiefs were removed in another purge, while dozens of people suspected of having a role in alleged illegal wiretapping were detained.

Last Tuesday's operation targeted senior staff members of the Telecommunications Directorate (TİB) and the Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey (TÜBİTAK) over leaked voice recordings that allegedly feature the voices of President Erdoğan and his son Bilal.

The voice recordings suggest the two were attempting, early in the morning on the day the Dec. 17 operation went public, to hide a large amount of cash located in their family home. In the recording, the voice allegedly belonging to then-Prime Minister Erdoğan asked Bilal to “zero” -- that is, to get rid of -- the money in the house. The money stashed at the home was claimed to have been as much as $1 billion.

Out of the 27 people detained in the wiretapping operation of Jan. 20, 23 were released, while only four of the suspects were arrested.

The operation was reportedly launched over the illegal wiretapping of encrypted phones used by Erdoğan, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, Chief of General Staff Gen. Necdet Özel, Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç and Constitutional Court President Haşim Kılıç.

A government whistleblower who writes under the pseudonym Fuat Avni (@fuatavnifuat) said over Twitter a day before Tuesday's operation went public that a major crackdown would be launched against TİB and TÜBİTAK members, as “Erdoğan is very angry at the leaking of voice recordings between him and his son.”

Stating that Erdoğan was outraged when the alleged phone conversation between him and Bilal surfaced last year, Avni said, “Erdoğan knows well that phone records will be subject to judicial proceedings." The whistleblower quoted Erdoğan as saying, “No matter what, the records must be destroyed.”

Hasan Palaz, the former vice president of TÜBİTAK, said after being released following the operation on Jan. 20 that there was no evidence against him and that he was surprised to have been asked by both the prosecutor and the judge to prove his innocence.

Palaz, who was forced to leave his post following the Dec. 17, 2013 corruption probe, earlier said he had refused to falsify a report concerning a bugging device that was allegedly found in Erdoğan's home. He also said he refused to be a scientist who obeys political authority, specifically referring to an order to draft a report saying the tape recordings were not genuine.

In yet another operation to manipulate public opinion, 10 police officers who were detained on charges of forgery, illegal wiretapping and slander as part of an operation launched by the Isparta Chief Public Prosecutor's Office were released shortly after being detained on Jan. 20.

Back on July 22, 2014, police arrested more than 115 of their colleagues of various ranks in pre-dawn raids as part of a clampdown on police officers involved in corruption investigations. Most of the suspects were released in the weeks that followed. The charges against the police officers include espionage and wiretapping. Erdoğan was running for president at the time and used the detention as part of a "campaign" against the Gülen movement to ward off allegations of corruption.

Erdoğan has asserted, since the breaking of the graft probes, that some police officers and members of the judiciary are sympathizers of Gülen and that they act like a state within the state, though he has provided no solid evidence for his claim.

Since the graft probes, more than 40,000 police officers are estimated to have been removed or transferred to different posts in countless waves of purges. The purges have mainly targeted officers who were part of the corruption probes.

The four former ministers -- Economy Minister Zafer Çağlayan, Interior Minister Muammer Güler, EU Affairs Minister Affairs Egemen Bağış and Environment and Urban Planning Minister Erdoğan Bayraktar -- left their posts under allegations of corruption a week after the Dec. 17 probe went public.

Both the Dec. 17 and Dec. 25 graft probes were dropped in recent months by prosecutors who were appointed, obviously through government intervention, to replace the original prosecutors in charge of the investigations.

The government breathed a sigh of relief only after Parliament voted last week against referring to court the four ex-ministers accused of corruption. That meant an end to the judicial process regarding allegations of corruption, at least for now…

Published on Today's Zaman, 24 January 2015, Saturday