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AKIPRESS.COM - Turkey has detained more than 50 police officers, including former high ranking officials who were led away in handcuffs, in one of the biggest blows to date against a corruption inquiry the government depicts as an attempted coup, Hurriyet Daily News reports July 22.
The detentions – which local reports said were based on suspicion of illegal espionage and fraud – also mark a heightening of the stakes in the battle between Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s prime minister, and Fethullah Gulen, an Islamic preacher and former Erdogan ally, who has many followers in the police and other state institutions.
“The first stage was getting these people out of their jobs,” said Wolfango Piccoli, at Teneo, a consultancy, referring to the removal from their posts of thousands of police, prosecutors and judges suspected of Gulenist affiliations. “These detentions are the second stage and I think we are going to see more . . . It is another sign that it will be very costly for anyone to pursue the corruption investigation.”
Those taken into custody in the early hours of Tuesday morning include former top officials in the antiterrorism and financial crimes police units, many of whom were involved in the corruption probe that shook Mr Erdogan’s administration when it came to light last December.
Among the targets of that investigation were four then-serving ministers, Mr Erdogan’s own son Bilal and executives with strong government connections – leading the prime minister to declare that the probe was an attempt to overthrow his administration.
“If the December . . . coup attempts had been successful, we would be standing trial,” Mr Erdogan recently proclaimed, referring to the investigation. “We are fighting for the nation, not ourselves.”
He has also formally announced that the fight against the Gulenists – who deny any link with the corruption investigation – is a national priority and has vowed to “eliminate this dirty structure within the law” if, as widely expected, he wins Turkey’s first direct presidential election next month.
“If reassigning people who betray their country is a witch-hunt, then, yes, we will carry out this witch-hunt,” Mr Erdogan said in May.
Turkish law makes it difficult to sack, rather than relocate, officials without clear evidence of wrongdoing.
At the same time, ruling party MPs have effectively stalled a parliamentary inquiry into the four ex-ministers by repeatedly sending back the prosecutors’ dossier on the four men, who deny allegations they received bribes of millions of dollars.
But despite a series of changes to Turkey’s legal system that outsiders – such as US and EU officials – say have brought the rule of law into doubt, the government has to date had problems maintaining control over the legal process.
The prime minister has previously expressed frustration that police detained in connection with what he depicts as offences against the state on behalf of the Gulenists – such as bugging his office – have later been released by courts that saw things differently.
Partly as a result the government has proceeded with plans to create new “super judges” to oversee the investigation into the Gulenists.