January 18, 2015

Documents expose new plot to frame Hizmet for exam cheating

Documents obtained by Today's Zaman regarding a 2010 cheating scandal surrounding the State Personnel Examination (KPSS) have revealed a plot to unjustly frame members of the Hizmet movement.

The plot involves blaming the cheating on members of Hizmet by using fabricated or planted evidence that was added to the case file later. The plot is also aimed at distracting public attention from growing accusations of favoritism and nepotism in the government that have been raised by the main opposition political party.

The documents show that a third flash drive that was allegedly found in a suspect's home was in fact added to evidence file two days after law enforcement officials concluded search and seizure warrants. Only two flash drives had been seized in the initial searches as part of the investigation into cheating allegations.

As part of the investigation launched into the scandal in 2010, Baki S. who was suspected of cheating on the exam, was detained and searches were conducted at his home as well as the homes of his relatives on Sept. 2, 2010 at the orders of Ayhan Gökalp, at the time a public prosecutor in the Yalvaç district of western Isparta province. The gendarmerie found two flash drives in the searches and registered them as evidence.

Two days later Gökalp filed a petition with the Yalvaç Criminal Court of Peace, asking for permission to examine the evidence found in the home of Baki S. After examining the evidence, Gökalp listed a third flash drive that had not been registered in the original search and seizure records filed by the gendarmerie. The prosecutor never disclosed where he found the third drive.

In addition to this inconsistency between the records of the prosecutor and the gendarmerie, a file containing questions for the KPSS exam was reported to have been found on this mysterious third flash drive.

The name of the file with the questions found on this particular device added to suspicions about a plot against the Hizmet movement. The file was labeled “3227” -- precisely the same number as the number of test takers who had answered more than 100 questions correctly on the exam.

The fact that the precise number of people who would score high points in the exam was known beforehand raises more questions, strengthening the perception that the government concocted a conspiracy to frame members of Hizmet.

At the time, many test takers said during their testimony that they had received higher points than they expected.

The allegations of cheating first emerged in August 2010, when 3,227 people answered most or all of the questions on the KPSS correctly, a first in Turkey.

The unprecedented success led to claims that some of the candidates had either cheated during the test or obtained the questions ahead of time. Some of the most successful candidates were either married to each other or were friends living in the same house. 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 allegations of cheating.

The fact that the Student Selection and Placement Center (ÖSYM) -- an institution administering nationwide examinations in Turkey, including the KPSS -- has said it destroyed relevant answer sheets has added to the pile of suspicions regarding the thoroughness of the investigation back in 2010.

Closer looks at the investigation into the scandal seem to produce more questions than answers. For example, it was claimed that Baki S. had allegedly received the questions for the KPSS from Berat K., who was working at a Hizmet-affiliated institution at the time in Ankara, beforehand.

More inconsistencies

The computers at the institution were seized as part of the investigation, but experts found no trace of the questions, in spite of the fact that Baki S. said in his testimony that Berat K., another suspect in the investigation, had sent him the questions via email. Berat K. denied the accusations.

Five years after the scandal broke, the computers were re-examined by the Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey (TÜBİTAK) following a major reshuffle at the council by the government in the aftermath of corruption scandals that implicated senior government officials.

The newcomers at TÜBİTAK drafted a report, reportedly under government pressure, claiming that court-sanctioned wiretaps that exposed the graft network were doctored. The Council of Forensic Medicine (ATK) disagreed with the report, however, saying that all the recordings were authentic.

Opposition parties in Turkey say TÜBİTAK has turned into a washing machine for the government's dirty laundry, preparing unscientific reports at the behest of political authorities.

The same seems to have happened in the case of the KPSS scandal, as TÜBİTAK, five years after the initial investigation, suddenly recovered a file containing the questions from a computer hard drive.

However, a 2010 criminal report by the Gendarmerie General Command's criminal investigation department obtained by Zaman revealed that the questions had been recorded in Baki S.'s computer five days before the exam, refuting his claims that he had received the questions via email from Berat K.

Yet the prosecutor was persistent in his claim that that the questions had been sent via email, without offering any evidence to back up this claim. The claim also contradicted the gendarmerie's report. What is more, when the court asked Microsoft to reveal the communication via the Hotmail accounts of Berat K. and Baki S., the company said these two people had never exchanged an email.

The plot to frame Hizmet was also made public when a government whistleblower -- using the pseudonym Fuat Avni and claiming to be a member of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's inner circle -- 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 Justice and Development Party (AK Party).

He also said the government had ordered the fabrication of evidence in order to make the Hizmet movement a scapegoat for the 2010 scandal before doing away with the KPSS. The whistleblower revealed the names of all of the people in the prosecutor's office and the police who have been operating under the orders of Erdoğan and who have been planting evidence in the hard drives of computers seized from suspects in order to incriminate members of Hizmet.

Since a major corruption investigation launched in December of 2013 that implicated government ministers and then-Prime Minister Erdoğan's inner circle, Erdoğan has declared a “war” against Hizmet.

He has insulted members of the faith-based movement numerous times and directed serious accusations at them. He invented the term “parallel structure” to refer to followers of the Hizmet movement that was inspired by Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen, particularly followers within the state bureaucracy.

Erdoğan, now president, and the government framed the corruption investigation as a “plot against his government” by the Hizmet movement and foreign collaborators. He held members of the movement responsible for many negative developments in Turkey, although he has so far failed to prove his claims.

Opposition claims nepotism within government

The government plot comes amid recent claims by the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) that many people have been hired by state agencies without taking the obligatory KPSS due to their ties with ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) officials.

Turkish Public Workers' Labor Union (Kamu-Sen) Secretary-General Fahrettin Yokuş claimed on Tuesday that the number of people who have been hired by the AK Party to state positions is higher than estimated, at around 20,000.

CHP Chairman and spokesperson Haluk Koç recently listed several individuals allegedly placed in state institutions under the guise of “exceptional positions.” Exposing clear nepotism within the government, Yokuş claimed that the number of people -- including children, relatives and even friends of AK Party officials -- hired by state institutions was greater than the number estimated by the CHP.

There are currently 3 million university graduates who are waiting to pass the KPSS exam in the hope of being employed by the state.

The CHP last week revealed large-scale government nepotism when it produced a list of individuals -- including children, relatives and even friends of ruling party ministers -- who were hired at state agencies without passing the required exam.

Even though around 20 million people have taken the KPSS examination during the AK Party rule, only 610,000 of them have been employed in state agencies, which corresponds to only 1.5 percent of the total number of individuals who have taken the exam, an earlier CHP statement on the issue said.

Gov't shoulder-taps controversial figure

Abdullah Çavuşoğlu, deputy head of TÜBİTAK, who claimed that Hizmet leaked the questions in advance, turned out to be a leading suspect in the cheating scandals that began in 2010. He was previously questioned by Ankara Deputy Chief Public Prosecutor Şadan Sakınan as a suspect in the investigation. Çavuşoğlu was an ÖSYM executive council member who was responsible for the security of the exams at the ÖSYM.

Çavuşoğlu was also among senior officials of the ÖSYM who were investigated by prosecutors for unusual financial activity in their bank accounts. He and other ÖSYM officials were investigated for obtaining unlawful and unjust income by granting the tender for publishing the booklets to the Meteksan publishing house and by sharing the questions with prospective exam-takers.

At the time allegations surfaced that some ÖSYM and Meteksan Publishing Company employees sold exam booklets in advance. Meteksan was also involved in a scandal in 2011 when a controversy erupted over the Transition to Higher Education Examination (YGS).

The controversial question booklet used in this YGS exam in 2011 was printed by Meteksan. The investigators, including computer experts, reviewed the database of question booklets distributed to 1.7 million test takers at the time.

The Meteksan scandal came a year after a cheating scandal resulted in the resignation of former ÖSYM head Ünal Yarımağan in 2010. The exam was canceled after it was revealed that questions were leaked to some groups in advance by ÖSYM staff.

In the investigation, Çavuşoğlu and five other ÖSYM officials were found to have rigged tenders in 20 exams, costing taxpayers about TL157 million in losses.

It is interesting that Çavuşoğlu, who was investigated for irregularities in exams and rigging tenders with the publishing house, is now being shoulder-tapped by the government as an expert to write a report on cheating scandals.

Published on Sunday's Zaman, 18 January 2015, Sunday