Hundreds of protesters took to the streets and clashed with police in Istanbul and Ankara to denounce voice recordings suggesting that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned his son to hide large sums of money from the police.
Police fired tear gas and rubber-coated steel bullets to disperse the anti-corruption demonstrators during a protest in Kadikoy Square in the commercial hub Istanbul, an opposition stronghold, Dogan news agency and other media reported on Wednesday.
The recordings were purportedly of Erdogan and his son Bilal discussing how to reduce the funds to “zero” by distributing them among several businessmen, before police raids in a corruption inquiry that reached into government.
At one point, the voice supposedly of Bilal says some $40 million remain to be disposed of. The names of two businessmen were also mentioned.
Erdogan’s office said late on Monday that the voice recordings were fake and “completely untrue,” Reuters news agency reported. Al Jazeera could not verify the authenticity of the audio recording.
However, on Tuesday, the Republican People’s Party, Turkey’s main opposition, claimed to have verified of the recordings through “three or four channels”. It also called on Erdogan to resign or leave the country.
Ankara’s chief prosecutor launched an investigation into the leaked recordings. It is not clear if the probe, intitiated on Tuesday, was to determine authenticity or whether a possible criminal act had been committed by Erdogan.
The leaked phone conversations, which appeared two days after Erdogan’s AK Party officially began campaigning for local elections at the end of March, may be the latest purported revelation in a fraud scandal Erdogan has cast as orchestrated to unseat him.
The corruption scandal, which erupted on December 17 with the detention of businessmen close to Erdogan and the sons of three ministers, has spiralled into one of the biggest challenges of his 11-year rule.
Social media and video-sharing sites have been awash with leaked recordings presented as evidence of wrongdoing. As with the latest recordings, Reuters has been unable to verify their authenticity.
Erdogan’s supporters say the corruption investigation was contrived by a US-based Muslim leader with influence in the police and judiciary in a bid to unseat him ahead of elections this year. The leader, Fethullah Gulen, has denied involvement.
The government has responded by dismissing or reassigning thousands of police officers, tightening its control over the appointment of judges and prosecutors, and pushing through a new law that allows the authorities to block access to websites within hours without a prior court order.