Main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu has strongly reacted to the removal by the government of the CHP mayor of İstanbul’s Ataşehir district over corruption allegations, saying those who took bribes from Turkish-Iranian gold trader Reza Zarrab, who was arrested in the US for violating sanctions on Iran, and then tried to protect him are now coming after his party for corruption, Cumhuriyet reported.
Mayor Battal İlgezdi was removed on Friday based on an investigation into him by inspectors, according to the official statement.
Calling on people to stand with İlgezdi and other CHP mayors, Kılıçdaroğlu on Saturday said: “We are not a party that was established in a vacuum. We defend rights and the law. We are the uniting force of Turkey. We have the soul of Kuvayi Milliye [the forces that carried out the War of Independence in the early 1920s]. You won’t get a single nail even if you come at us with all your strength.”
“We derive our strength from the nation, not the palace,” added Kılıçdaroğlu.
Recalling the corruption operations in December 2013 that implicated the inner circle of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) government and then-Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the recent testimony of prime suspect Zarrab in a US court, Kılıçdaroğlu said: “I’m asking the government. Why you did not take any steps against those [ministers of the Erdoğan government] who took bribes from Reza and then tried to protect him? They are the ones who are now coming after us for corruption.”
Following the decision, a group of İlgezdi’s supporters gathered outside the municipal building to protest the decision.
Reacting to the decision, İlgezdi issued a statement denying the charges of destroying critical documents over allegations of corruption. He urged the authorities to hold him accountable, adding that the government has strong control over the media and the judiciary. “The rule of law has collapsed, and this is a political process,” İlgezdi also pointed out amid debates over judicial independence in Turkey.
The AKP government has been removing local mayors, particularly in the Kurdish-populated southeastern region, especially since a coup attempt on July 15, 2016. Several elected Kurdish mayors were replaced by government appointees under an ongoing state of emergency.
Even though İlgezdi has been removed due to allegations of corruption, the AKP government and its leader, President Erdoğan, have been under fire for having swept corruption charges against their government under the rug. The government’s decision to target only opposition mayors is considered a double standard by many critics.
İlgezdi’s wife, Gamze İlgezdi, is a deputy from the CHP who is among the few politicians in Turkey raising concerns about infants being victimized in a purge that is being carried out by Erdoğan.
The government’s move came days after shocking testimony from Zarrab in a New York federal court.
Zarrab was the prime suspect in a major corruption investigation in Turkey that became public in December 2013 and implicated the inner circle of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) government and then-Prime Minister Erdoğan. Zarrab was alleged to have paid Cabinet-level officials and bank officers bribes to facilitate transactions benefiting Iran.
After Erdoğan cast the case as a coup attempt to overthrow his government orchestrated by his political enemies, several prosecutors were removed from the case, police were reassigned and the investigation against Zarrab was dropped in Turkey.
Zarrab, who was arrested in the US in March 2016, last week said in court that he resumed violating sanctions upon the order of then-Prime Minister Erdoğan and his son-in-law and current Energy Minister Berat Albayrak after he was released from a Turkish prison on Feb. 28, 2014.
Zarrab and eight other people, including Turkey’s former economy minister and three Halkbank executives, have been charged in the US with engaging in transactions worth hundreds of millions of dollars for Iran’s government and Iranian entities from 2010 to 2015 in a scheme to evade US sanctions.
While Zarrab revealed his tactics and accomplices within the Turkish government in violating US sanctions on Iran in New York federal court, President Erdoğan said on Tuesday that the case was an international coup attempt against Turkey.