SHAFAQNA- Turkish Parliament has rejected three proposals to refer former Economy Minister Zafer Çağlayan, former Interior Minister Muammer Güler and former EU Affairs Minister Egemen Bağış to a top court on charges of bribery and corruption, while voting for the other minister is expected to take place in upcoming hours.
The voting on Tuesday was held among claims of pressure over ruling party deputies by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who apparently fears that he may also face charges of corruption should Parliament deliver a yes vote.
Parliament is voting for each of the ex-ministers separately and in secret ballot as per the Constitution. The first voting took place to decide on the fate of Çağlayan. AK Party lawmaker Mahir Ünal told Aljazeera Türk that at least 38 AK Party lawmakers voted in favor of the trial, but it was defeated as 264 deputies, most of them likely from AK Party, voted “no”. Ünal later said in a tweet that he didn’t make that remark to the TV channel.
Later on Tuesday, another proposal to refer Güler to the top court was defeated as AK Party deputies overwhelmingly voted against the proposal. Only 241 lawmakers voted in favor of the proposal, falling short of 276 (for simple majority) and 258 voted against. Six deputies abstained while eight out of 513 votes were not accepted. At least 43 AK Party lawmakers voted in favor of the trial.
Early hours on Thursday, a proposal to refer Bağış to the court was also defeated thanks to 255 votes cast by AK Party deputies. At least 245 lawmakers voted “yes” for the proposal. Seven abstained and 10 were not accepted.
Earlier on Tuesday, an opposition deputy submitted a petition to Parliament that no device with a camera be allowed in the voting booth due to concerns that ruling party deputies may have been told to photograph the ballot they cast.
To make sure that no ruling party deputy votes for referral, it has been claimed that ruling party deputies may have been instructed — in violation of the secret-ballot rule — to photograph the ballot they will be casting using their mobile phones.
Mahmut Tanal, a deputy from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), drew attention to the claim that the secrecy of the voting may be violated and warned in his petition that such a practice would destroy the dignity of Parliament.
Yılmaz Tunç, deputy head of a parliamentary commission established to look into claims of corruption against the four ministers, took the floor and defended the commission’s previous decision of non-referral for the ex-ministers.
He claimed that the allegations against them were either baseless or that the evidence against them was illegally collected.
But deputies from opposition parties refuted Tunç’s claim, saying there is ample evidence for corruption regarding the ex-ministers.
Ali Özgündüz, a deputy from the CHP said in a speech on the floor that deputies who believe in Judgment Day should vote to send the ex-ministers to court.
He underlined that the corruption investigation cannot be dismissed by the government by claiming that it was an attempt to oust the government. Noting that various elements of the investigation were actually launched much earlier — in 2007 and 2008 – the CHP deputy said it would absurd to say that those bureaucrats in the Finance Ministry and the Security General Directorate who had launched the previous probes were engaged in a plot to overthrow the government.
Özgündüz, who noted in his speech that even AK Party’s Tunç did not claim that there is no corruption, underlined that voice recordings allegedly featuring the four former ministers were not, as implied by Tunç, the only evidence in the investigation file.
Özgündüz also noted that what former Economy Minister Zafer Çağlayan, one of the suspects in the corruption investigation, presented as proof of his innocence before the commission was not the only evidence indicating involvement of the ex-ministers in corruption.
According to Çağlayan’s declaration of property, TL2.465 million was sent to his account by his brother, Şenol Çağlayan, as a debt payment. The source of the money, according to the ex-minister’s statement, was jewelry and gold coins pinned to Çağlayan’s nephew, Kaan Çağlayan, on his wedding night.
The commission report includes the invoice for a transaction showing that Şenol Çağlayan had exchanged the jewelry for cash at a jewelry store named Simay Kuyumculuk on Oct. 31, 2012. However, the date on the invoice was six months earlier than the wedding, which was held on April 12, 2013.
Faruk Bal, a deputy from the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), refuted Yılmaz’s claim that there is no evidence against the ex-ministers.
Noting that on page 635 of the MHP’s dissenting opinion on the commission’s report about the ex-ministers the amount of money the accused ex-ministers allegedly received as bribes, Bal said: “Isn’t this enough evidence?”
Chances that Parliament will send the four former ministers to the Constitutional Court (AYM) for trial are weak, considering that the ruling Justice and Development (AK Party) has a clear majority in Parliament.
For the four ex-ministers to appear before the court, at least 53 AK Party deputies need to vote yes, along with all the opposition and independent deputies.
The total number of opposition and independent deputies is 223 in Parliament and at least an absolute majority, which is 276 votes, is needed for a referral to the top court.
The four former ministers — Economy Minister Zafer Çağlayan, Interior Minister Muammer Güler, EU Affairs Minister Egemen Bağış and Environment and Urban Planning Minister Erdoğan Bayraktar — left their posts under claims of corruption a week after a graft probe went public on Dec. 17, 2013.