The police chief of Istanbul, Turkey’s largest city, has been removed from his post two days after a high-level corruption crackdown on business and government circles that includes the sons of three cabinet ministers.
The government started to make comprehensive changes to the Turkish police force on Wednesday in a move widely perceived as Ankara’s response to the corruption investigation, which Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan says is a “dirty operation” to smear his administration and undermine the country’s progress.
Turkish media reports said that tens of high-level police commissioners have been sacked following the raids related to the probe that led to detention of at least 51 people. Nine of the detained were released late on Wednesday.
As we fight to make Turkey in the top 10 countries of the world... some are engaged in an effort to halt our fast growth.
According to the reports, at least 11 senior police officers in Istanbul, Turkey’s largest city, 19 in the capital of Ankara and three in the Aegean city of Izmir were removed their posts and some of them have already been assigned to passive posts outside these two cities.
There are also reports of changes being made to the police forces in the cities of Bursa, Kayseri, Trabzon and Kocaeli, with the number of police officers removed from their positions steadily rising.
Those detained in relation to the investigation on Tuesday included 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 said that $4.5m had been seized at Aslan’s house.
‘State within state’
Speaking at a press conference in Ankara on Wednesday, Erdogan said those behind the investigation were trying to form a “state within a state”, an apparent reference to the movement of United States-based Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen, whose followers are influential in Turkey’s police and judiciary.
“As we fight to make Turkey in the top 10 countries of the world… some are engaged in an effort to halt our fast growth. There are those abroad… and there are extensions of them within our country… Right now a very dirty operation is going on,” he said.
Political tensions are running high in Turkey ahead of a series of elections starting next year that will pose a key test for Erdogan after anti-government protests in June .
Many analysts linked the investigation to the recent rift between Fethullah Gulen 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.
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.