Tag Archives: Sadullah Ergin

A Guide to Turkey’s Tape Scandal

ISTANBUL–As Turkey prepares for crucial local elections March 30, the country has been convulsed by the release of recordings of private conversations of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and media executives, bureaucrats and businessmen.

Mr. Erdogan says his private conversations were wiretapped and confirmed the authenticity of some of the dozens of recordings, but says many have been edited to distort their meaning as part of a plot by his one-time political ally Fethullah Gulen, a U.S.-based Turkish imam with millions of followers. Mr. Gulen has repeatedly denied any involvement and the movement’s representative said on Monday he had “nothing to do with the tapes.” Mr. Erdogan’s spokesman did not respond to calls for comment.

The recordings have been posted on social media, including YouTube and TwitterTWTR +0.89%, by accounts with the usernames Haramzadeler (the Sons of Sinners) and Bascalan (the Prime Swindler), but no one has claimed responsibility. Here is a look at recordings that have received the most attention.

The Cash

The most explosive tape, published Feb. 25, purports to show a conversation between the prime minister and his son, Bilal, discussing how to hide tens of millions of dollars in cash stored in the family’s home. The tape was alleged by the Prime Swindler to have been secretly recorded on the morning of Dec. 17, the first day of a sprawling corruption probe in which dozens of the premier’s allies, including three former ministers’ sons, were arrested on allegations of corruption.

On the tape, a voice alleged to be that of the prime minister instructs a person identified as his son to get rid of all the money, preferably after dark to avoid attention. The other speaker, purportedly his son, says he has moved everything except €30 million ($41.6 million), which is proving difficult to shift.

The prime minister has labeled the recording an “immoral montage,” and voiced anger at having his phone secretly wiretapped. The younger Mr. Erdogan has remained quiet through the scandal, and did not respond to calls for comment through his wholesale food company.

Pro-government media went to recording studios in the U.S. and asked them to assess the tapes. Employees at the studios had no clue they had been involved in a Turkish political scandal, and though they reported the tapes had been edited they later said their analyses had been misused.

The Court Case

On March 4, the Prime Swindler published a tape accompanied by tweets alleging it showed that Mr. Erdogan meddled with a high-profile tax case against a government critic five years ago. Mr. Erdogan appears to tell Turkey’s then justice minister, Sadullah Ergin, of his disappointment with the acquittal of media mogul, Aydin Dogan, in a trial over price gouging.

The prime minister appears to complain that Mr. Ergin had not followed the case closely enough. The men then appear to discuss in detail the prospects for reversing the decision.

A person close to Mr. Dogan said the case apparently discussed on the tape concerned charges brought against his company by Turkey’s Capital Markets Board for allegedly causing losses to investors by overcharging its subsidiaries for products sold by a Dogan-owned firm. The case continues despite the company being acquitted several times in separate courts, the person said.

Mr. Dogan, who was involved in a public row with Mr. Erdogan, has also received a handful of fines over tax irregularities that included one for $2.5 billion. They were eventually reduced by a large amount through court appeals and a government restructuring program.

Mr. Dogan’s company issued a statement the day after the tape was released, saying it would “further shake the judicial system in Turkey” if it was authentic.

Last week, Mr. Erdogan confirmed he discussed the case with Mr. Ergin, but said “it was only natural” to urge the justice minister to follow it more closely because it contained “dangerous” details, though he did not elaborate on what they were. He says the recording was “put together piece by piece.”

In an interview last week with CNN Turk, Mr. Ergin said the conversation was taken out of context by editing, and that he and Mr. Erdogan were discussing complaints over alleged manipulation of court documents they were trying to figure out how to correct.

The Ship Contract

On March 4, the Prime Swindler published a tape and alleged it contained conversations between Mr. Erdogan and a shipyard owner, Metin Kalkavan, in which the prime minister appears to manipulate a tendering process.

The Prime Swindler alleged the conversation was recorded shortly after the Turkish military awarded a $2.5 billion warship-construction contract to Koc HoldingKCHOL.IS +0.49%, a Turkish conglomerate that criticized Mr. Erdogan’s government during antigovernment protests last summer.

In the recording, Mr. Kalkavan, owner of the Sedef Gemi Insaat shipbuilding company, appears to tell Mr. Erdogan he had not officially applied for the bid in writing, but the premier tells him he should formally complain about an unfair bidding process. Mr. Kalkavan appears to promise he would enter a bid if it were reopened.

In the end, the bid was canceled and the contract was taken up by the Turkish navy, which has started work on building the ships.

Shortly after the cancellation, a separate $3 billion government shipbuilding contract was offered to Mr. Kalkavan and Spanish Navantia, a Spanish state-owned shipbuilding company.

Last week, Mr. Erdogan confirmed at least part of the recording, saying it was natural for him to advise someone to file a complaint to reverse wrongdoing. “As a result of the lawsuit, the bid is canceled. And the state earns a hundred, two hundred million dollars,” he said, in a reference to the navy contract.

“They are as lowly as to wiretap this conversation,” he said in a televised speech, referring to followers of Mr. Gulen.

According to the state-run Anadolu news agency, Mr. Kalkavan confirmed the conversation, but stressed it was “wrong to make conclusions based on just some parts of it.”  A spokesman for Spanish Navantia said the company had no doubt it won the tender based on the strength of its product.

The Media

The Sons of Sinners published a series of tapes, the first on Feb. 4, in which government officials allegedly order media bosses to change headlines, censor opposition politicians’ speeches and write stories planted by officials. According to the tapes, the orders were apparently executed without resistance.

Mr. Erdogan did not challenge their authenticity and directly confirmed one recording in which he personally called a media executive to order the removal of headlines from an opposition speech as he watched them airing on TV. “Yes, I made the call… because there were insults against us, against the prime minister… and they did what was necessary,” Mr. Erdogan said in televised remarks mid-February. “We have to also teach them these things. Because the insults were not normal.”

The content of many tapes was confirmed by Turkish editor in chief Fatih Altayli, who said in a television interview that the government would regularly interfere with the content published in his newspaper, Haberturk.

A Guide to Turkey’s Tape Scandal – Emerging Europe Real Time – WSJ.

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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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