Parliamentary Commission Votes Against Trial For Ex-Ministers On Graft Charges

TURKEY-POLITICS-CORRUPTION-PROBE-FILES 14-member Parliamentary commission investigating corruption allegations against four former ministers met on Monday and decided that there are no grounds to send former ministers to the Constitutional Court to be retried.

The decision on not to send former ministers to the Court, which hears cases against MP’s, ministers and top bureaucrats as Supreme Council court, was taken on Monday with nine votes in favor of it, while five deputies voted against it.

The corruption inquiry commission is comprised of 14 members of Parliament from political parties represented in Parliament, except for the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), whose member withdrew from the commission in protest after a court gag order was imposed.

The ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) has nine members on the commission, the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) has four and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) has one. When the result of the vote is considered, both the ruling party and the opposition had unanimously voted for and against sending former ministers to stand trial.

It was earlier debated in Turkish media outlets that some AK Party commission members may vote for sending former ministers to stand trial.

Previously on October 17, 2014, the Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor decided to drop charges against 53 suspects, including businessman Reza Zarrab and the sons of former ministers Barış Güler and Salih Çağlayan as part of alleged corruption probe. The prosecutor found that there were problems with evidence to prove the accusations of corruption. Proof of criminal elements or of any such conspiracy was not discovered, the prosecutor said. The probe, which was initiated by prosecutors with alleged links to the Gülen Movement, led by the controversial U.S.-based imam Fethullah Gülen, was defined by the government as “an attempt to forcefully overthrow the government.”

AK Party deputy and Parliamentary Constitution Commission member Burhan Kuzu spoke to A Haber news channel following the decision, pointing out to the fact that rest of the suspects of corruption allegations were released, therefore it is not needed to send former ministers to stand trial.

The Constitutional Court had been criticized by the majority of the public for its rulings that are considered as being highly influenced by the members of the Gülen Movement that infiltrated the judiciary. The ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) believes that a possible trial at the top court would provide a chance for Gülenists to take decisions that solely aim to harm the party which overcame an alleged coup attempt by the same group.

In May, the inquiry commission began a probe into corruption allegations against former Economy Minister Zafer Çağlayan, former Interior Minister Muammer Güler and former Environment and Urban Planning Minister Erdoğan Bayraktar. The three officials resigned from their posts after an anti-graft probe was launched on December 17, 2013, while EU Minister Egemen Bağış was later replaced in a Cabinet reshuffle.

Each of the former ministers defended themselves for 10 minutes in the Turkish Grand National Assembly (TBMM) and deputies voted on the motion via secret ballot.

Çağlayan is accused of being opposed to an anti-smuggling law, forgery of official documents and bribery. Güler is accused of forging official documents, abuse of power, violation of privacy and bribery. Bayraktar is accused of abuse of power and Bağış is accused of abuse of position and bribery.

Taking to the rostrum for the first time since the Dec. 17 operation, Çağlayan addressed the general assembly in his defense. He defended himself by saying that during his tenure as minister and deputy, he was at the service of businessmen who will contribute to Turkey’s growth and he will continue to be of service for the sake of the country. Accused of taking a bribe by accepting a watch valued at about $700,000 from renowned businessman Reza Zarrab who was arrested and then released as part of the Dec. 17 operation, Çağlayan rejected the allegations and said, “I paid for it [the watch], Reza Zarrab had an office close to the store and his employees took the watch from the store and delivered it to me.”

Describing the December 17 operation as a “coup plot” and an “alleged corruption operation,” Bağış defended himself by saying, “After serving the country for 12 years as a deputy, being slandered by those allegations is sad. These [allegations] are just a planned game of the parallel state. They are all lies and slanders.” He went on to add, “The reality will emerge sooner or later. We will never shy away from being held to account.”

In his defense speech, Güler said, “These [allegations] are just a stage for a scenario that was prepared beforehand. Universal presumption of innocence is violated without controlling the legitimacy of documents.” Refuting the claims, Güler said, “This investigation includes many illegal practices and abuse of power from the very beginning to the operation phase.” While the other former ministers gave their defense speeches, Bayraktar preferred not to speak at the general assembly about the allegations against him.