The Sabah daily, ATV and other media outlets owned by Turkuvaz Media, the main propaganda machine of the regime in Turkey, have been financed by kickbacks that were taken from pro-government businesspeople in exchange for lucrative government contracts.
This was plainly laid out back in 2013 when a far-reaching criminal investigation that was hushed up by the government became public knowledge. According to the summary of proceedings in the case file, often referred as the Dec. 25 corruption case, then-Prime Minister and now President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had tasked then-Transportation and Communications Minister Binali Yıldırım, today the parliament speaker, with organizing several businessmen to collect enough funds to acquire Turkuaz Media.
Yıldırım created a pool of money from the contributions of the businessmen, promising them shares in big government tenders in return. Wiretapped phone conversations between the businessmen show that Mehmet Cengiz, Celal Koloğlu, Nihat Özdemir and İbrahim Çeçen each transferred $100 million to the pool, while businessman Adnan Çebi transferred $30 million and businessman Hayrettin Özaltın transferred $20 million for the purchase of Turkuaz Media.
The investigation, described as the biggest bribery and corruption probe in the history of the Turkish Republic, was revealed to the public on Dec. 25, 2013. It would have required accountability for unsavory relations between government-affiliated figures, businessmen and bureaucrats if it had not been hamstrung.
According to the summary of proceedings seen by the Nordic Research and Monitoring Network (NMNR), the İstanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office ordered the detention of 30 suspects, including a number of Justice and Development Party (AKP)-affiliated figures and businessmen. However, the İstanbul Police Department, which saw an extensive purge of its top officers following the first phase of the graft probe, on Dec. 17, 2013, did not comply with the order. Shortly after the order, the prosecutors involved in the Dec. 25 investigation were removed from office.
The government assigned new prosecutors to the investigation in an apparent move to drop the charges against the corruption suspects. Among the main suspects of the Dec. 25 investigation was President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s son Bilal; businessmen Mehmet Cengiz, Mustafa Latif Topbaş and Yasin al-Qadi, a Saudi businessman who had been on the US Treasury Department’s “Specially Designated Global Terrorist” list as well as on the UN sanction list. Al-Qadi was later removed from these lists.
The launch of the Dec. 25 probe came following another investigation into an earthmoving company, which coincidentally revealed corrupt relations among a number of businessmen and government figures. The İstanbul Police Department launched in 2012 the investigation into the earthmoving company, whose trucks were recklessly violating traffic rules and threatening road safety. The police first thought the company was able to conduct its business and avoid punishment by means of bribery; however, as the investigation proceeded, the police found that the earthmoving company was not only involved in bribery but also in threatening individuals and peddling influence. The owner of the company, against which the police officers were afraid to impose fines, turned out to be a close relative of a top government official.
Technical and physical surveillance of suspects during the probe also revealed that the company was not only doing earthmoving work but also other suspicious projects, thanks to its owner having received preferential treatment with the help of ties to someone near the top of the state. The police investigating the earthmoving company separated the investigation into suspicious affairs among politicians, well-known bureaucrats and businessmen, later known as the “Dec. 25” probe.
The Dec. 25 investigation was overseen by prosecutor Muammer Akkaş. Around $100 billion in bribes were said to be involved in the case. According to the summary of proceedings, there were 96 suspects in the investigation; Al-Qadi was the number one suspect. There were five interest groups that were related to each other. Every group had a leader. The first group was led by al-Qadi, the second by Topbaş, the third by Bilal Erdoğan, the fourth by Parliament Speaker Binali Yıldırım and the fifth by businessman Orhan Cemal Kalyoncu. These individuals allegedly intervened in the sale of valuable land and large tenders in a systematic way to make an illicit profit. They also allegedly made a number of Cabinet ministers press ahead with certain legal amendments, when necessary, that would work in their favor.
The suspect’s used code names for each other during conversations among themselves. The network’s members referred to Bilal Erdoğan as “friend,” and to President Erdoğan as “the friend’s father.” The suspects were accused of money laundering, bribery, tender-rigging and corruption. The organizations or companies that were also involved in these offenses were the Turkuaz Group (owners of the Sabah daily and ATV); the Bosphorus 360 construction company; BİM, a Turkish discount grocer; the Prime Ministry Development Agency; the Kalyoncu Group; the İstanbul Public Housing Corporation (KİPTAŞ); the İstanbul Metropolitan Municipality; and the Foundation of Youth and Education in Turkey (TÜRGEV), of whose executive board Bilal Erdoğan is a member.
As part of the investigation, dozens of suspicious transactions of the Prime Ministry, the Ministry of Transportation, the Ministry of Environment and Urban Planning, the Ministry of Forestry and Water Management, the Ministry of Culture and Tourism and the Prime Ministry Development Agency were put under surveillance by the police.
The investigation dossier included phone conversations, video recordings and voice recordings of the suspects obtained during physical and technical surveillance in addition to many other pieces of tangible evidence.
The summary of proceedings asserts that Erdoğan decided who and how much the members of the network would receive from their earnings. The summary further notes that Bilal Erdoğan was the secret partner of a development project in Etiler. It provides concrete evidence of how Turkey has been run, how profits were made — often through unethical and illicit means — and shared among insiders. The Etiler project was planned for a 32-hectare plot of land located in the most valuable part of İstanbul that was occupied by the Etiler Police Academy. However, if the academy moved to another location, the group would be able to build a lucrative shopping mall and a luxury high-rise residential complex on the site. This group, which includes Bilal Erdoğan, sought to buy the land at the lowest price possible and without a tender, and then to get a permit to allow it to build at heights that exceeded existing restrictions. In April 2012 the Etiler Police Academy land was given to KİPTAŞ.
The recorded phone conversations make it clear that the tender was prepared in such a way as to ensure that Bosphorus 360 would win the bidding at the price it wanted. The investigation files claimed that all of Bosporus 360’s assets belong to al-Qadi’s son Muaz al-Qadi, Al-Qadi’s representative Osama Qutb and Abdülkerim Çay, although the company is owned by Cengiz and Rabiya Aktürk on paper. The closure of the historic Etiler Police Academy, established more than a century ago, was announced in the Official Gazette in early October 2013. It said the school had been closed as of Sept. 22 on orders from the Interior Ministry on Sept. 10 under Article 10 of Law No. 4652.
The school’s land had been declared a risk zone and its property was then transferred to the İstanbul Metropolitan Municipality. It had an appraised value of TL 430 million despite real estate experts’ estimates that the land should be valued at no less than TL 1 billion at the time, given the valuations of similar locations in the vicinity. A wiretapped conversation between former Environment and Urban Planning Minister Erdoğan Bayraktar and KİPTAŞ head İsmet Yıldırım included in the summary reveals that, along with other officials, the ex-minister was engaged in a number of unlawful practices, including the rezoning of plots of land in İstanbul. In the phone conversation Yıldırım allegedly tells Bayraktar to change the zoning status of a plot of land in Çatalca, a town west of İstanbul, to that of an earthquake-prone zone and then hand it over to KİPTAŞ. In response, according to the transcript, Bayraktar refuses, saying such a move would be illegal and would have “dire consequences.”
In the conversation between Bayraktar and Yıldırım, which allegedly took place on July 24, 2013, the former minister admits to having engaged in unlawful practices in relation to land in İstanbul’s Etiler neighborhood. “I have already done this for Etiler,” he said. “How can I do the same for Çatalca? They will hang us [if they learn about it].” Bayraktar, whose son was detained and later released as part of the corruption operation that came to light on Dec. 17, 2013, resigned from his post as minister and as a lawmaker on Dec. 25 of the same year. Issuing a strongly worded statement, the former minister claimed that he had been pressured by the AKP to submit his resignation so that the government’s reputation would not be damaged. He added that Erdogan should also quit since most of the reportedly illegal changes to construction plans that were brought up in the corruption investigation were made on Erdoğan’s orders. The prosecutor behind the investigation, Muammer Akkaş, was removed from the case on Dec. 26, 2013 after he claimed he had been prevented from doing his job in the investigation. The prosecutor’s removal came only a day after he had ordered the detention of 30 suspects. Following his removal, Akkaş gave copies of a written statement to reporters outside the İstanbul Courthouse on Dec. 26 that listed complaints about the political pressure he had experienced. “All my colleagues and the public should know that as a public prosecutor I was prevented from conducting the investigation,” he said, adding that pressure had clearly been put on the judiciary both from the public prosecutor’s office and the police, giving suspects the opportunity to destroy evidence.
New prosecutors for the Dec. 25 investigation announced in September 2014 a decision of non-prosecution against 96 suspects in the probe despite the existence of a large amount of evidence against them. The prosecutors — İsmail Uçar, İrfan Fidan and Fuzuli Aydoğan — described the investigation as an “attempt to prevent the Turkish government from working.” In their decision prosecutors Uçar, Fidan and Aydoğan also called for legal action against the prosecutors and police officers who carried out the Dec. 25 investigation. The government launched a crackdown on the officers involved in the graft investigations with raids beginning on July 22, 2014. The operations, which were widely seen as an act of revenge by the government, led to the detention, arrest or dismissal of dozens of police officers, including chiefs who were part of operations against corruption and bribery rings as well as terrorists and other criminal groups.
The summary of proceedings states that Saudi businessman al-Qadi, listed as a terror financier for years on both the UN and US lists, entered Turkey seven times before his name was taken off the lists of those suspected of supporting terrorist activities. He entered Turkey without any paperwork at various airports, where he arrived on his private jet with the full knowledge and protection of the Erdoğan government. He was also given an official vehicle, a bodyguard and a driver by the government. In other words, at a time when a group of police officers was protecting this illegal visitor, another group was monitoring his every move and recording his conversations.
According to claims put forward in the Dec. 25 summary of proceedings, al-Qadi, called “Amca” (uncle) by those around him, and Erdoğan had 12 meetings in Turkey. The summary also indicates al-Qadi met with National Intelligence Organization (MİT) Undersecretary Hakan Fidan five times during a period when he was not allowed to enter Turkey. Those organizing his entries and meetings took the utmost care to ensure secrecy and took immense pains to ensure that the name “Qadi” was not recorded by an eavesdropper.