May 22, 2015

Businessmen, officers detained in police raids targeting Erdoğan critics

A number of people, including businessmen perceived to be supporters of Gülen movement, were detained simultaneously in 19 provinces on "terrorism" charges, in what is the latest example of a large-scale government crackdown on the movement, inspired by Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen, following the December 2013 corruption scandals implicating people in Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's inner circle.

Erdoğan blames alleged supporters of the Gülen movement within the police and judiciary for instigating the massive corruption inquiry that led to the resignation of four ministers. Dozens of people, mostly members of the police force, have been targeted in operations backed by the government and called “anti-parallel structure” operations by the pro-government media.

Such operations had until now focused on alleged followers of the Gülen movement within the state.

Friday's police raids, whose targets included members of the Aktif business association and former police officials, were part of an investigation into a "plot" against a private holding, according to a statement from the Konya Governor's Office. The detainees are accused of membership of what the prosecutors call a "Fethullahist terror group" and of violating of the confidentiality of the investigation and the privacy of private lives and communication, the Governor's Office said.

The operation was centered on the central Anatolian province of Konya but spread across nearly 20 provinces, private news agency Doğan reported. The Governor's Office said there were detention warrants for 66 people, including the former police chief of the province, former police officials and businessmen in Konya. It is currently unclear how many people have been detained so far.

A lawyer and his secretary in Konya were also reportedly detained as part of the same investigation on May 11 at the Konya airport as the lawyer was set to travel to the United States. The lawyer is charged with being a member of a terrorist organization, forgery and malpractice.

An executive of the private holding at the center of the investigation, Okyanus Group, was the target of anti-corruption operations carried out by the anti-smuggling and anti-organized crime unit of the Konya police in 2008. A total of 234 people involved in dealings with Okyanus have been detained on charges of forming a criminal organization, forgery, tender rigging, bribery and violation of the confidentiality of the investigation as the criminal probe expanded. The holding's CEO, Nusret Argun, was convicted on 73 separate charges and sentenced to more than 180 years in jail while another high-profile suspect in the case, the former rector of Selçuk University in Konya, was sentenced to five years in prison. A total of 114 other suspects were also convicted while 117 people were acquitted.

Argun, who rapidly rose to become a business magnate after starting out as a photocopying vendor at the university's medicine faculty in the 1990s, was released from prison last year after serving 5.5 years due to a legal amendment that abolished specially authorized courts. Argun then claimed he was the victim of a "conspiracy by the parallel structure."

‘Witch hunt'

Scores of police officers, including police chiefs, have been detained since a corruption scandal erupted on Dec. 17, 2013 implicating then-ministers and people in the inner circle of Erdoğan, who was prime minister at the time. Erdoğan denied the claims of corruption and described the scandal as a plot against his government by foreign powers and the Gülen movement, also known as the Hizmet movement, which Erdoğan says has set up a “parallel state” within the state.

Erdoğan infamously promised to take every measure to eliminate the "parallel structure," including launching a "witch hunt." Thousands of police officials and officers as well as judges and prosecutors were reassigned or removed in the aftermath of the Dec. 17, 2013 scandal, while many among them were later prosecuted and imprisoned pending trial on "parallel structure" charges.

The Konya-centered operation comes just weeks before the June 7 parliamentary election, which Erdoğan hopes will pave the way for constitutional reform boosting his presidential powers.

The Hizmet movement is not the only one targeted by Erdoğan as the election tensions heat up. The president and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu have lashed out at mainstream Hürriyet newspaper over its coverage of a death sentence handed down to Egypt's ousted President Mohammed Morsi over the weeekend. Erdoğan and Davutoğlu claimed a headline on Hürriyet's website highlighting that Morsi had been elected as president with 52 percent of the votes suggested that Erdoğan could share Morsi's fate because he was elected president in August 2014 with the same percentage. Criticism from Erdoğan and Davutoğlu was followed by a criminal complaint against Hürriyet's editor-in-chief and website editors over the headline.

Erdoğan called Hürriyet writers "charlatans with salaries" during a televised interview on Thursday night, holding up examples of Hürriyet newspaper attacking him on its front pages.

Published on Today's Zaman, 22 May 2015, Friday