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Ex-minister confirms authenticity of evidence against him in 2013 graft probe

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Erdoğan Bayraktar, the former Turkish minister of environment and urban planning, said on Sunday the evidence against him included in the case-file of the Dec. 17, 2013 corruption investigation was genuine and not doctored as alleged by the ruling party.

Making the revelations in an interview posted on YouTube, Bayraktar also accepted the charges against him in connection with a major graft scandal that had shaken the Turkish government to the core.

The December 17-25 bribery and corruption investigations shook the country back in 2013. The probe implicated, among others, the family members of four cabinet ministers as well as the children of then-prime minister and current President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Despite the scandal resulting in the resignation of the cabinet members, the investigation was dropped after prosecutors and police chiefs were removed from the case. Erdoğan, officials of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the pro-government media have described the investigation as an attempt to overthrow the government.

Dismissing the investigations as a conspiracy against his government by the Gülen movement, a group inspired by Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen, Erdoğan designated the faith-based movement as a terrorist organization and began to target its members.

He locked up thousands, including many prosecutors, judges and police officers involved in the investigation.

Some of the claims that were part of the corruption investigations were later substantiated in New York federal court where Turkish banker Mehmet Hakan Atilla was sentenced to 32 months for conspiring to violate US sanctions on Iran and other offenses.

The graft scandal erupted with the arrest of the sons of three then-ministers from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), Iranian-Turkish businessman Reza Zarrab, the director of a state-owned bank, a district mayor and many more on December 17, 2013. Zarrab’s close relationships with the Turkish ministers, whom he admitted bribing as he came forward as a witness after a plea bargain with the US prosecutors in the federal court case, were revealed via audio recordings of wiretapped phone conversations shared on the Internet by anonymous users.

Bayraktar argued that he didn’t know Zarrab. “I wasn’t caught with any money,” he said, referring to huge sums of money found inside shoeboxes in the houses and offices of the ministers’ sons during police raids.

“Whatever there is in the case-file against me is true. Everything in my case-file, including voice recordings, audio surveillance and the [transcripts of] wiretapped telephone conversations is completely genuine. Theirs [the other ministers] might not be, but in my case, it is,” Bayraktar said, contradicting the AKP’s argument that the police chiefs conducting the investigation had doctored the evidence.

“I accept everything in the case-file about me,” he said.

Bayraktar’s revelations came as a blow to Erdoğan’s claim that the corruption scandal was fabricated by sympathizers of the Gülen movement within the police department with the aim of overthrowing his government.

In 2018, the 13th İstanbul High Criminal Court announced aggravated life sentences for former police chiefs Yakub Saygılı, Kazım Aksoy, Yasin Topçu and Mahir Çakallı along with Arif İbiş, Mustafa Demirhan, Mehmet Habib Kunt, İbrahim Şener, Mehmet Fatih Yiğit and Mehmet Akif Üner on charges of attempting to overthrow the government.

The closed Dec. 17 investigation had come into the spotlight once more when the US arrested Zarrab in Florida on March 19, 2016, on charges of bank fraud, money laundering and conspiring to evade US sanctions against Iran.

In the meantime, Babak Zanjani, whom Iranian officials claim is Zarrab’s collaborator and partner, was sentenced to death in Iran for corruption in May 2016. Zanjani was accused of fraudulently pocketing $2.8 billion.

Democracy and Progress Party (DEVA) leader Ali Babacan in February had said the December 2013 graft probes could be revisited one day, as nothing would be lost in the state archives and that anything can be unearthed with a bit of digging.

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