SHAFAQNA- The first month of 2015 is likely to be dominated by the parliamentary Corruption Investigation Commission decision regarding sending four former ministers to the Constitutional Court for trial because of their involvement in a graft scandal.
Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu recently said no one who is revealed to have been involved in corruption will be tolerated within the Justice and Development Party (AK Party), a statement that was perceived as a signal that the commission will decide in favor of a trial for the former ministers. However, expectations were lowered with the December announcement by the commission that there would be a two-week delay in its decision, allegedly after President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan stepped in to ask the commission not to refer the former ministers to court.
The Cumhuriyet daily reported on Wednesday that Erdoğan met with the four accused former ministers and several members of the commission before its latest meeting on Dec. 22, asking the members to vote in favor of the ex-ministers and clear them of the graft accusations. Erdoğan also reportedly shared his opinion on the matter with Prime Minister Davutoğlu. Following the meeting, Davutoğlu allegedly called Hakkı Köylü, head of the commission, and asked him to postpone the vote to next week since the members of the commission are apparently inclined to refer the ministers to the Constitutional Court for trial.
There are also rumors circulating in Ankara that although both Erdoğan and Davutoğlu want the commission absolve the ex-ministers, the result of the vote in Parliament could dash the government’s hopes of sweeping the graft scandal under the rug. Some 73 of the ruling party’s deputies are ineligible to run for Parliament in the next election due to a party bylaw that limits deputies to three consecutive terms and they could elect to vote in favor of a trial.
Davutoğlu has reportedly asked the ex-ministers in question to volunteer to stand trial on the graft claims but they appear to have no intention to do so.
Pro-gov’t media targets Çiçek for views on ministers’ trial
The discussion of whether the former ministers will stand trial or not prompted several pro-government media outlets to target Parliament Speaker Cemil Çiçek, who has said that they should be sent to the Constitutional Court. In a recent interview with the Habertürk TV station, Çiçek said if the former ministers are not sent to the Constitutional Court, then discussion of the issue would never end.
In response to Çiçek’s statement, one of the pro-government media outlets, A Haber, recalled an incident from 21 years ago in which Çiçek also faced a similar investigation but was not tried. It questioned Çiçek and asked, “What has changed since then, leading you to change your attitude about being tried by the Constitutional Court?” in a report apparently aimed at intimidating the speaker regarding his stance on the trial of the ex-ministers.
Davutoğlu’s chief adviser, Etyen Mahçupyan, recently stated that most people think the graft claims are authentic, seemingly revealing a serious discomfort within the AK Party regarding the scandal that implicated many top political figures in the government.
The commission, which was established on July 7 to investigate the massive graft scandals which were revealed on Dec. 17 and 25, 2013, is required to wrap up the investigation process on Jan. 29 and write a report of its findings as to whether or not the ex-ministers were involved in graft. However, the final decision to refer the accused ministers to the Constitutional Court for trial will be made by Parliament in a vote of its deputies.
The commission has failed to summon most of the suspects and witnesses who are named in the corruption investigation indictment to testify, and has been criticized for its inaction for several months. The government delayed the establishment of the commission for seven months after the graft scandal, and even after it was established, the body has failed to address public expectations that the truth of the matter would be revealed.
The commission, reportedly because there is a majority of AK Party deputies among the members, has adopted delaying tactics, causing tension to run high amid accusations of the government’s intention to bury the investigation. The commission has also managed to meet less often than it should have, leading members of opposition parties in Parliament to constantly complain about the government’s reported efforts to cover up the scandal and the accusations of corruption leveled against ministers, their sons and Iranian businessman Reza Zarrab, who was arrested on charges of “giving bribes” and “establishing an organization to commit crimes” as part of the probe.
The Republican People’s Party (CHP) had demanded that former Halkbank General Manager Süleyman Aslan, who police found had a large sum of money hidden in shoeboxes in the library of his house, and those prosecutors who conducted the graft investigation, be heard at a commission meeting. However, the commission failed to comply with the demand.
The commission examined the ex-ministers’ assets and found that there was a non-proportional increase in the personal assets of three of the ex-ministers, Zafer Çağlayan, Muammer Güler, Egemen Bağış, when compared to their monthly salary, following a report by a specialist from the Finance Ministry’s Financial Crimes Investigation Board (MASAK).
The commission delayed its next session after the ex-ministers objected to the MASAK report. However, the objection might backfire, as another more detailed MASAK report that has been requested could find more non-proportional increases in the ex-ministers’ personal assets.