Erdoğan confirms tapes genuine, admits to meddling in judiciary

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has confirmed the authenticity of a voice recording in which he can be heard meddling in the judiciary by ordering a former justice minister to “closely monitor” judicial proceedings so that a media mogul would not get off scot-free.

At a meeting in Ankara on Wednesday with representatives of local media outlets from Turkey’s 81 provinces, Erdoğan dismissed criticisms directed at him regarding the recording. He said it was appropriate that he told former Justice Minister Sadullah Ergin to keep an eye on a court case concerning Aydın Doğan, the honorary chairman of Doğan Holding.

After a lower court ruled in Doğan’s favor in a trial over allegations that he broke the capital markets law, Ergin can be heard in the recording telling Erdoğan not to worry because the case would go to the Assembly of Criminal Chambers of the Supreme Court of Appeals for a final decision.

Erdoğan said on Wednesday that the SPK, which regulates markets, sectors and companies to ensure fair competition between firms, provided him with “very dangerous information” on Doğan. Doğan was involved in “parallel structures and dirty relations,” Erdoğan said to justify his actions. “This required me to tell [Ergin] to closely follow the case,” Erdoğan said, adding that he wanted this for his “country and nation.”

Doğan, whom the prime minister has criticized on a number of occasions over the years, owns a number of mainstream TV stations and newspapers that are critical of the government. In a statement run by his flagship media outlet, the Hürriyet daily, Doğan said the recorded conversation, if true, would mark a “clear interference in the judicial process.” He added that it could shake people’s trust in the rule of law in Turkey. Doğan called on the government to clarify the content of the phone recording or prove that the recording is invalid.

Erdoğan has been accusing the Hizmet movement of illegally wiretapping thousands of telephones in Turkey for years to create criminal cases against its enemies and try and influence governmental affairs. The movement’s representatives have denied these accusations and the government has not offered any tangible proof to back up its assertions so far. The wiretappings have been leaked by Twitter users with usernames like Haramzadeler, Başçalan and fuatavni. They claim that all the tapes were legally recorded under court orders as part of a series of graft probes that were interrupted after the government removed hundreds of prosecutors and as many as 10,000 police officers from their posts.

In another voice recording, the prime minister allegedly reproaches Ergin for failing to have kept adequate watch over the progress of Doğan’s case. “You said a hearing [of the case] was not conducted. [But] the hearing was conducted,” Erdoğan, who noted that the court had issued a verdict on July 2, can allegedly be heard saying.

In comments that, if authentic, could point to a policy of profiling against Turkey’s Alevi minority community, the voice attributed to Ergin says that the judge who ruled on the issue is of Alevi origin. In Turkey, Sunni Islam is widespread and Alevism is considered by some to be an unorthodox sect of Islam.

“This man [the judge] has announced a verdict. He defended the previous verdict of the court. Naturally, the SPK is shocked,” the prime minister can allegedly be heard saying.

Ergin, who is now running for mayor in the March 30 local elections in Hatay, where a respectable number of Alevis reside, has denied the validity of these phone conversations, claiming that the wiretappings were a “montage.” But Erdoğan contradicted him the next day when he admitted that he had actually called the minister.

Tender-rigging in MİLGEM

The prime minister also confirmed the authenticity of another voice recording released on Tuesday that revealed he had instructed a well-known shipping magnate, Metin Kalkavan, to engineer the reopening of a public bid on the national warship project (MİLGEM).

In the phone conversation, which was reportedly made in April 2013, Erdoğan asks Kalkavan, the owner of a maritime company, to say that the necessary conditions for competition had not been met in the initial bidding for MİLGEM. Although Kalkavan tells Erdoğan that his company failed to make an official application for the bid, Erdoğan insists that Kalkavan submit a petition to the Prime Ministry’s Coordination Center (BİMER).

The MİLGEM contract, which was awarded to Koç Holding subsidiary RMK Marine for $2.5 billion in January of 2013, was cancelled by the Defense Industry Implementation Committee (SSİK) in September, 2013. At a meeting chaired by Erdoğan and attended by Chief of General Staff Gen. Necdet Özel and Defense Minister İsmet Yılmaz, the SSİK approved a report prepared by the BTK on the MİLGEM contract that stated it was not in the public interest.

In another phone call alleged to date from Sept. 27, 2013, Erdoğan is claimed to have talked to Kalkavan again, instructing him to offer a competitive price in the new bid for MİLGEM.

Erdoğan justified his phone conversation with Kalkavan by saying that a businessman who had been sidelined during the tender had appealed to him. But the voice recording, if genuine, clearly shows Erdoğan instructing Kalkavan to reapply for the bid.

Prime Ministry building ‘cannot be destroyed’

Erdoğan also challenged those who have called on the Ankara Governor’s Office to halt construction of the Prime Ministry building on the Atatürk Forest Farm (AOÇ) following a court decision on Tuesday. “If they have the power, let them destroy it,” Erdoğan said.

Erdoğan said they “had done nothing illegal” and that they were planning to open the building either in April or May.

Tilting at windmills

Embattled by serious corruption allegations since Dec. 17, 2013, Erdoğan has characterized a “parallel state” structure as the culprit behind these “fabricated” voice recordings, which allegedly aim to harm the image of his government in society. The prime minister has confessed that several of the recorded conversations actually took place. He accused the “parallel state” of tapping his encrypted phone calls, a comment which was interpreted by many as an admission of the authenticity of those recordings. Erdoğan, however, denies certain conversations with his son Bilal, which appear to demonstrate him ordering Bilal to get rid of nearly $1 billion in cash on the morning when the police raids started and another in which he advises Bilal not to take $10 million from a businessman until he brings the full amount he had promised.

For Erdoğan, these recordings are a part of a campaign to weaken his government ahead of the local elections that are scheduled for March 30 and the presidential elections in August. He has claimed that this “parallel structure,” a phantom villain that he never clearly identifies, has intercepted not only his conversations but also those of other statesmen, including President Abdullah Gül.

Gül: No bug in my office

Gül instructed the State Supervisory Council (DDK) to examine the regulations governing the wiretapping of communications as part of a review of Turkey’s capacity to tackle graft in state institutions on Tuesday. He also asked the auditors to examine the process by which judges and prosecutors are chosen and to assess the rules surrounding “state secrets,” despite the fact that he had previously approved a controversial government bill concerning the structure of the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK), which will vest the government with unchecked power in the judiciary. His approval of the law had come after commenting that 15 points of the law contradict the Constitution.

Gül told the press in Ankara on Tuesday that the DDK assessment should help to determine the shortcomings in the implementation of the laws. He also denied Erdoğan’s words that even the president’s office had been bugged and that his phones had been wiretapped. “But he told me that some audio surveillance really exists,” said Gül.

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