Inside Story

Turkey fraud probe: Tip of the iceberg?

With a high-level corruption scandal embarrassing the prime minister, we ask what it means for him and his AK Party.

A wide-ranging corruption scandal has engulfed the highest levels of the Turkish government.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has reshuffled his cabinet, and replaced 10 ministers, after the three who were implicated in the scandal resigned.

Erdogan had long ago announced that the cabinet was due for a reshuffle. But it has not stopped talk of a deepening crisis at the heart of the government – one that the prime minister is failing to control.

If the resignations had come just after the probe started they would have been more meaningful .… There is an impression among the society that actually what we have seen is the tip of the iceberg. People think there is more to the story.

by Ozgur Unluhisarc?kl?, Ankara office director of the German Marshall Fund

Of the three ministers to quit, Environment Minister Erdogan Bayraktar has the potential to hurt the prime minister the most. Despite being Erdogan’s long-time ally, he refused to go quietly, saying the prime minister should follow suit.

But Erdogan insists his government is clean, and has dismissed the corruption allegations as being part of a conspiracy. He insists the probe is politically motivated and backed by international interests.

“The reason our party has been successful, the reason we took the helm and we have been ruling the country for 11 years, is because of our honesty, our commitment to the country and our determination to fight against corruption,” he said.

He added that his AK Party does not overlook nor tolerate corruption and should it do that, it would be removing its “raison d’etre”.

“We are facing an attack against the Turkish people and the Turkish republic, which is presented as a corruption probe. Everybody is aware that this is not a corruption probe but this is an obvious conspiracy, a set-up against Turkish politics and people,” he said.

But that message did not satisfy many people in Istanbul. Instead, they held protests in parts of the city where they were met with tear gas and water cannon, when riot police tried to disperse the crowds.

The corruption case is seen as part of an escalating feud between Erdogan and a former ally Fethullah Gulen, the leader of a religious and social movement known for its network of schools in more than 140 countries.

In Turkey, Gulen followers serve in institutions that include the police, the judiciary, the media, even the AK party itself.

And the party has benefited from its relationship with Gulen – who backed its members to three successive election victories. But the relationship did not last.

The rift seems to stretch back to a Gulenist prosecutor who tried to question the head of Turkey’s national intelligence agency – one of Erdogan’s allies. And more recently, the prime minister’s decision to shut down Gulen-run schools was seen as a provocation.

So, what does the current crisis mean for Erdogan as he and his AK Party struggle for their political lives? Is the prime minister addressing the corruption issue effectively, and is he wrong to blame the present crisis on an international plot?

To discuss this, Inside Story presenter Dareen Abughaida is joined by guests: Yavuz Baydar, a columnist with Today’s Zaman, Turkey’s English language newspaper; Ozgur Unluhisarc?kl?, the Ankara office director of the German Marshall Fund; and Galip Dalay, a researcher at the SETA Foundation in Turkey.

“It does not have to be an international plot … The main perception among columnists in Turkey is that none of these people see this as a corruption case per se. It is like [a] politically-motivated corruption case.”

Galip Dalay, a researcher at the SETA Foundation in Turkey