corruption

Part 3: Victory?

Erdogan victory akp

The day after the local elections I stood on the sidewalk with my bags waiting for a taxi. I was on my way to a friend where I would stay during my last days in Istanbul. It was clear that AKP had won, even though the votes were still being counted.

After putting my luggage in the backseat, I sat down next to a smiling taxi driver, who immediately, as most strangers asked about my nationality, after wrongly assuming I was from Germany.

The radio was playing loud. Every second minute, parts from Erdogan’s victory speech, in which he promised to crush all his opponents, was aired. Now and then, the radio station also played pieces of the song specially written for the local elections with the simplistic but telling refrain “Reeeecep Taaaaayyip Errrrdooogaaaaan!”

“How is it going in Ankara?” I asked the driver. “Have they counted all the votes yet?”

“AKP won!” he answered while taking his right hand off the steering wheel, raising his thumb up in the air.

“45% percent they got” he continued.

“So what do you think will happen to Fetullah Gülen now?”

He again lifted his right hand from the steering wheel, this time imitating a razor blade cutting against his throat.

“He is finished!” he said.

We continued to talk about other things, but as the taxi came closer to my final destination, I wanted to ask him one last question.

“So, do you think there were any corruption? Do you think Erdogan is corrupt?”

He did an upwards nod.

“No! There is no corruption!” he said with certainty in his voice.

I sat in silence for a while, watching the expression on his face. He looked friendly.

“But…” I started, discretely smiling. “… This is Turkey. Aren’t most politicians corrupt here in some way? The CHP also, I mean.”

His face changed somewhat like he was preparing to say something, but he remained quite.

“Do you really believe he is not corrupt?” I continued and smiled.

At this point his facade broke down.

“You are right. He might be! He might have taken some money” he said almost in a whispering tone.

“So what do you think about that?”

“Well, he is the best we have!” he continued after a while. ”I like him! He is doing great things for people like me!”

As I stepped out of the taxi, grabbed my luggage and said god bye to him, I thought about the fact that AKP has had constant wind in their sails since they came to power in 2002. And when they were faced with their first real challenge, the Gezi protests, they managed to ruin their entire worldwide reputation as a progressive democratic party in less than a couple of weeks. After the corruption allegations, they now only have the poor and uneducated people left to vote for them. This is enough to win the elections under todays political circumstances, but is Erdogan able to provide another ten years of economic success and reforms, that these poor voters hope for?

That is the burning question.

Part 2: Three gentlemen

Three gentlemen Turkey

One day before the elections I went to a classic Turkish fish restaurant together with some friends. The restaurant was located in one of the more wealthy parts of Istanbul. This is an area, where the main opposition party, CHP, always gets a very high percentage of the votes and where people on average aim for a westernised lifestyle.

But this night I would learn, that the political life still had its own distinguished features, specific to Turkish culture.

After ordering a bottle of Rakı – the national drink before AKP replaced it with the non-alcoholic Ayran – and after the first mezes had arrived to the table, I spotted three older men sitting a bit away from us in a corner. They were well-dressed, in suits, and with friendly faces. As our eyes meet, I raised my glass towards them and they saluted back.

“Where are you from? Are you from Germany?” one of the men said in broken English as I passed their table returning from the restroom a bit later.

I answered them and we started to chat. Soon they asked me to sit down with them.

“What do you think about the food? Delicious, isn’t it?” one of the men said.
“Excellent, It was very good. We are waiting for the main course. Do you know the owner?”
“Know the owner!” he exclaimed. “He is the little brother of my childhood friend. We go here all the time. We grew up not far from here.”

As the discussion unavoidably entered in to the area of politics, it turned out that one of the men, was senior local politician, working for the main opposition party, CHP. Glad to make his acquaintance we continued to talk, and after discussing the economic development of Istanbul, my mouth slipped – it must have been the Rakı – and I told them about a idea for a business based in Istanbul.

The politician immediately turned rather serious.

“We should talk” he the said. “We should exchange numbers and meet!”

I looked at the other men and they nodded.

“You should meet him, he can make anything happen” one of them said.

“Everything is possible.” the politician continued. “You can talk to me, and we can make a deal!”

He was saying all this in the way any old and powerful man in Turkey would do. But since he was a politician, there was no doubt about the meaning of his words.

From many friends I knew and heard stories about how knowing the right people, especially within politics and municipality, could mean the difference between bankruptcy and success. If someone within the system saw that your business was successful, they often wanted a cut. They would try to get it by pointing out problems of different kinds, mostly technicalities that at first seemed ridiculous. However, such a situation could quickly grow into a nightmare. Licenses could be withdrawn, deliveries could stop, police could come visit. The solution was always compensative one, meaning money under the table.

What the politician now offered me, was a shortcut. But of course it would not be a free one.

And I came to think: Even though he represented the opposition party, there was, in essence, little difference between him and e.g. Erdogan. They where of the same generation and in terms of attitude to corruption, they were soul mates.

No wonder why the voters did not punish Erdogan for being corrupt!

Leaked sound recording might determine Erdogan’s future

The heat has turned up on Turkish Prime minister Tayyip Erdogan. With about one month left to local elections, five phone recordings were leaked on Youtube yesterday. In just a couple of hours, the video with the recordings had over one  million views. Why? It exposes that Tayyip Erdogan and his family are bathing in enormous amounts of unaccounted cash.

Most of the conversations on the leaked recordings allegedly took place between Tayyip Erdogan and his son Bilal Erdogan on the 17th of December, the same day as a graft probe was unexpectedly initiated against ministers and sons in Tayyip Erdogan’s own government.

Tayyip Erdogan, who is in Ankara, calls his son, who seems to be sleeping and unaware of the turmoil created by the corruption investigation. Its 08.00 in the morning:

R. TAYYİP ERDOĞAN: Are you at home?

N. BİLAL ERDOĞAN: I am, father.

RTE: This morning they did an operation, this Ali Agaoglu, Reza Zerrab, our Erdogans son [another Erdogan], Zafers son, Muammers son, their homes are being searched.

NBE: Tell me again, father.

RTE: I am saying Muammers son, Zafers son, Erdogans son, Ali Agaoglu, Reza Zerrab, 18 people right now, the are doing a big corruption operation and their homes are being searched.

NBE: Yes

RTE: Ok? Now I say, whatever you have at home, take it out! Ok?

NBE: What would I have, father, there is your money in the safe.

RTE: That’s what I am saying! I am sending your sister now. Ok?

NBE: Who are you sending?

RTE: I am saying that I am sending your sister!

NBE: Eh, ok!

RTE: Then the same way, she has that information, ok? Talk to your brother!

NBE: Yes!

RTE: Lets do that things, talk to your uncle too, he should also take it out the same way, talk to your brother in law, he should also…

NBE: What should we do to it, father, where should we put it?

RTE: To specific places, do it!

In the other, following recordings, Bilal Erdogan calls back to his father and report how the work is proceeding. After a day of collecting enormous amounts of cash, allegedly about USD 1 billion from 5 different houses and making it disappear by buying flats and paying in advance for projects to businessmen they work together with, he still haven’t been able to hide it all.

At 23.15 the same day this call takes place:

NBE: Hi daddy, I am calling to… we almost did it. Eh, did you call me father?

RTE: No I did not, you called me.

NBE: I was called from a secret number

RTE: By saying mostly, did you fully dissolve it?

NBE: We did not zeroized it yet father. Let me explain. We still have 30 million Euros that we could not yet dissolve. Berat thought of something. There was an additional 25 million dollars that Ahmet Calik should receive. They say let’s give this to him there. When the money comes, we do something, they say. And with the remaining money we can buy a flat from Sehrizar, he says. What do you say, father?

Tayyip Erdogan accepts his son’s ideas about how the last 30 million Euros should be hidden. The next day, on the 18th of December, Bilal Erdogan calls his father and says that all the money has been “zeroized”.

How the leaked recordings are going to influence the upcoming local elections March 30 is hard to say at this point. The opposition parties, naturally, immediately called for Erdogan to resign, while the prime minister himself claimed that the over 11 minutes long file of conversation was a montage, adding that he was going to sue the ones behind the “dirty plot” against him and his family.

However, its certain that the voter’s reactions to the recordings is going to be crucial for Turkeys near future. If these recordings can’t harm Erdogan considerably in the upcoming elections, I am afraid that nothing can.

Erdogan’s twist a’la turka

Erdogan's twist a'la turka

Fatih Mayor Mustafa Demir was among the AKP politicians arrested on the 17th of December 2013.

In this post I would like to make two things clear regarding what happened in Turkey the 17th of December 2013. My mayor points are marked in bold.

First, let me state that corruption is widespread among Turkish politicians.

All Turks know it. And especially they know that Erdogan’s government is corrupt. If someone would tell you otherwise, it is a Turkish way of saying: Ok, he is corrupt but I still support him, I accept that he takes bribes because all politicians do.

Thus, what surprised people on the 17th of December, was not that they found out about corruption within the government, but that prosecutors and the police did something about it.

Erdogan’s way of dealing with the graft probe has famously been to blame the Islamic scholar Fetullah Gülen for having ordered it against his government.

I will admit that Erdogan probably has a point about the loyal followers of Fetullah Gülen in the state system, that they might be somehow influenced by the Islamic scholar’s opinions. But Erdogan’s twist of this reality should be clearly understood:

Any crime that this “gang within the state” might have committed took place during the years before 2013, when they did not investigate the government’s corruption, despite clear evidence of it.

(e.g. read this article about how the corruption in the municipal district of Fatih in Istanbul was discovered.)

Thus, Erdogan has fired and replaced hundreds of police officers and prosecutors, not because they where doing anything wrong, but because they started to do things right!

It can only be described as a twist a’la turka!

The Istanbul Earthquake and the Political Neglect

After an earthquake hit Izmit, a city about 100 kilometres east of Istanbul, in 1999 it became obvious that buildings in Turkey built during the previous decades generally were of low quality in terms of earthquake safety. Many of the buildings in Izmit collapsed, leaving its inhabitants crushed between the concrete floors.

The Istanbul Earthquake and the Political Neglect

The Istanbul Earthquake and the Political Neglect

To fund preparations for future earthquakes, not least the one awaiting Istanbul, a special earthquake tax was enacted and made permanent in 2003. This tax, called Özel Iletişim Vergisi, meant that an extra 25 percent was added to all Internet, mobile and telephone landline bills in Turkey. However, when an earthquake hit the city Van in eastern Turkey in 2011, the finance minister Mehmet Şimşek, admitted that the money had been used to build roads, and had not been spent for the intended purpose. “There is no such thing as an earthquake tax!” prime minister Tayyip Erdogan lectured in his usual manner as the critique grew more fierce a couple of days after the news broke, meaning that tax money can’t be earmarked for certain purposes. Considering the high probability of a big quake in Istanbul and the low quality of buildings there, this talk is naturally nonsense and might just hide a disease too common in Turkey: corruption.

To understand how much 25 percent of all the mobile, internet and telephone landlines bills is, lets take a look at the most recent number of mobile subscriptions in Turkey. As of 2013, there was a total of 68.9 million subscriptions and a very modest assumption would be that each of these are billed about 20 TL every month. Knowing that a 25 percent tax is in that that price, we consequently get about 4 TL in tax per subscription, adding up to:

275 million TL per month and 3,3 billion TL per year!

…and mark well that this is only the money that is collected from mobile subscriptions, leaving out the telephone land line bills and the internet subscriptions.

And now I wonder: Correctly spent on its intended purpose, how many lives would this money be able to save just in Istanbul?

The answer: many

Reinforcements of unsafe buildings, informing the public about what to do when an earthquake hits, or just handing out earthquake kits or changing old gas pipes to flexible ones in plastic, are overall measures that cost very little, but might still mean the difference between life and death.

It’s a shame that this is not discussed more in the Turkish media before it is too late. Many politicians of today will have blood on their hands when the earthquake hits Istanbul.

Three Ministers Allegedly Took 63.5 Million Dollars in Bribes

According to the newspaper Cumhuriyet, the three ministers that were recently fired because of corruption charges, have received a total of 63.5 million dollars in bribes. Former economy minister Zafer Çağlayan allegedly received a total of 52 million dollars at 28 occasions. Former interior minister Muammer Güler recieved 10 million dollars on 10 occassions and the EU minister Egemen Bağış 1.5 million dollars on three occasions. 

To put 63.5 million dollars in perspective, an average Turkish household has a disposable income of about 12 000 dollars. Consequently, the bribes correspond to the yearly income of 5292 families!

Three Ministers Took 63.5 Million Dollars in Bribes

Three Ministers Took 63.5 Million Dollars in Bribes

A Gezi protest within the AK Party?

It is easy to forget that the AK Party is a political unit that most likely would function without it’s leader Tayyip Erdogan. The way that Erdogan rules the party, reminds more of a military commander directing his troops on the battlefield than a democratically elected leader that listen, learn and argue. Those who question Erdogan are immediately expelled from the party. Given that, it is natural that Erdogan takes all criticism personal. Criticizing AK Party means criticizing him.

Lately, however, we have witnessed some interesting signs of resistance against Erdogan in a way that was unthinkable just one year ago. It started with the former famous football player and deputy Hakan Şükur, who resigned December 16, publicly slamming Erdogan for his plan to close down the prep schools, seen as an direct attack on the Islamic scholar Fetullah Gülen, who Hakan Şükur stands close. And after the graft probe was initiated one day later, additionally eight deputies resigned, as a protest against Erdogan’s way of interfering in the ongoing probe, trying to obstruct the justice. Even the finance minister, Mehmet Şimşek, criticized the sacking of police officers initially, but suddenly became very quite on the issue. Most likely, these objections are the tip of an iceberg, and if the political unrest continues, we might witness a Gezi protest within the AK Party. Such a protest would probably erupt equally unexpected as the Gezi protests that took place in Taksim in June 2013. That’s the way it works in Turkey. People are friendly and patient, but there is always a limit. I know that not least from personal experiences.

The critical point that has to be reached for this to happen is that members of the party start to see Erdogan as more of a liability than an asset. Because of the way Erdogan dominates the party, it is easy to forget that not all leading members are corrupt and democratically blinded by a will for power. The AK Party is not the problem. Erdogan is! His response to the graft probe clearly signals that he is more interested in saving his own family than developing Turkey into a true democracy. If he continues along that path without managing to stabilize the political situation, that critical point might be reached much sooner than anyone would guess.

So, what is Erdogan afraid of? Is it to lose the money he has stacked away? Most likely! But even if it weren’t for the corruption charges against his family, he would still be deadly afraid of losing his political immunity. Considering the amount of enemies he has created over the years, not the least within the military because of the Ergenekon trial, staying in power is the only way to survive in a country like Turkey. Thus, Erdogan stepping down voluntarily is not a likely scenario. Excluding the opportunity of an enormous failure for the AK Party in the upcoming elections of 2014, a Gezi protest within AKP is the most likely way forward for democracy in Turkey!

A Gezi protest within the Ak Party

A Gezi protest within the Ak Party

Gülen is not the point

Since the graft probe including former ministers of the AKP government became public on December 17th, and the arrests of the minister’s sons took place, Erdogan and his government have described the case as a plot with the aim of toppling AKP’s 11 years old rule. Behind it lie international forces afraid of Turkey’s rise as an economic power in the region, but also a so called gang within the state, a clear a reference to Fetullah Gülen’s loyal members within the state apparatus. How these two pictures are combined, has never been explained nor elaborated.

When it comes to the claims of an international conspiracy, only media outlets close to the government (Sabah, Yeni Safak etc.), has taken these seriously. Other newspapers has mostly seen it as a way for Erdogan to play upon old conspiracy theories, popular in a certain segment of voters.

The claim that Fetullah Gülen has loyal people within the police force and the judiciary system on the other hand, has bearing. But in relation to the serious accusations and the seemingly solid evidence that the graft probe is based upon, describing the whole case as the fight between Erdogan and Gülen, as even many newspapers critical of the government has done, is not only wrong, but is also skewing the public debate to Erdogans advantage. The AKP strategy has very clearly been to describe the graft case as a war against them, thus justifying the sacking of over 500 police officers, not making any real comments about the accusations and obstructing the justice. By adopting this description, AKP’s attempts to avoid further investigation is given credibility.

It is therefore time to stop talking about Gülen vs. Erdogan. Such talk is only distracting the debate from what is really going on among high government officials in the frail democracy of the Turkish republic.

Gülen is not the point

Erdogan and Gülen back in the days

Also read this article on the subject.

The continuing self-censorship in Turkey

The self-censorship and the fear of the Turkish media is well illustrated in Hurriyet Daily New’s sunday interview with the journalist Sedat Ergin. Reading the interview you get the impression that the real problem in Turkey today is that Gülen has loyal people within the police force. This is vividly discussed and elaborated.

And the elephant in the room?

Over 500 police officers have been sacked without good reasons, ministers are being accused of corruption, one of them implicating Erdogan as the ringleader after being fired, Erdogans son are among other businessmen close to the government involved in a second, bigger probe, which the government directly intervened in to stop. I repeat: the government is directly intervening in the judicary system!

Naturally, neither Sedat Ergin nor the interviewing journalist Barçın Yinanç is to be blamed here. But the interview makes a qoute by Noam Chomsky come to mind

The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum…