Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said the detention of dozens of people, including police officers and ministers’ sons, in a high-profile corruption probe is an “ugly operation” against the government.
Five Turkish police commissioners have been sacked a day after the sons of three cabinet ministers and prominent businessmen were detained in a corruption probe, Turkish media reports said on Wednesday.
The heads of five departments in the Istanbul police force, including its financial crimes, organised crime and smuggling units, were removed from their posts, various national media outlets reported.
Political tensions are running high in Turkey ahead of a a series of elections starting next year that will pose a key test for Erdogan after anti-government protests in June.
Erdogan branded the graft probe an “ugly operation” against the government.
“We will not allow political plotting,” he told reporters in Ankara.
Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc said five police chiefs had been dismissed after the raids in Istanbul and Ankara that led to the detention of 51 people.
“The judicial process should be concluded swiftly and carefully,” Arinc told reporters after a closed-door meeting with Erdogan and several ministers.
“We will always respect any decision made by the judiciary and will not engage in any effort to block this process,” he added.
Scores of people including the sons of three cabinet ministers, senior bureaucrats and well-known businessmen were detained in operations undertaken in Istanbul, Turkey’s largest city, and the capital Ankara on Tuesday over a corruption investigation.
Those detained include the sons of Interior Minister Muammer Guler, Economy Minister Zafer Caglayan and Environment Minister Erdogan Bayraktar.
Various well-known businessmen and bureaucrats were also detained including Suleyman Aslan, the chief executive of Turkish state bank Halkbank, Mustafa Demirand, the mayor of Istanbul district Faith, and Ali Agaoglu, a renowned construction tycoon.
The suspects are accused of accepting and facilitating bribes to secure construction permits for protected areas, the Turkish media reported.
Some reports on Wednesday also claimed that $4.5m have been seized at Aslan’s house, this has not been confirmed by officials yet.
Many analysts linked the sweeping sentences to powerful United States-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, whose followers have long held influential positions in state institutions from the police and secret services to the judiciary and Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).
The tensions between the two fronts arose after the government’s plans to abolish private prep schools that prepare students for the Turkish central university exam.
Gulen owns a large network of such schools.
Gulen supported Erdogan’s AKP since 2002, but the bitter row between the two in recent weeks risks fracturing their support base before local and presidential elections next year.
The cleric, 72, has been living in exile in the US since 1999 to escape charges of plotting against the secular state but his movement still wields considerable influence within the status apparatus in Turkey including the police and the judiciary.