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I’m not afraid to be tried for graft, former minister says

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A former minister who recently confirmed the validity of charges against him in connection with a corruption scandal that had shaken the Turkish government in 2013 has stated he isn’t afraid to be tried if an independent prosecutor deems it necessary, local media reported on Friday, citing a journalist.

Erdoğan Bayraktar, the former Turkish minister of environment and urban planning, revealed during an interview posted on YouTube in late August that 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 Justice and Development Party (AKP).

Journalist Fikret Bila on Thursday quoted Bayraktar during a program on Halk TV as saying to him a few days earlier that he wasn’t afraid to send his case file to the Supreme State Council for trial in the event that an independent prosecutor examines the file and considers it necessary that he be tried.

“He said he sees this situation as a matter of honor,” Bila said, explaining that Bayraktar argued the allegations against him were different from those of the other three ministers also implicated in the investigation in that he was never involved in bribery.

“The allegations against Bayraktar were different. … While one of them [Bayraktar’s case file] was about the ministry, the other files were about [Iranian-Turkish businessman] Reza Zarrab. … The files should have been sent to the Supreme State Council [in 2015],” Presidential High Advisory Board member Cemil Çiçek also said in the wake of Bayraktar’s revelation in August.

A parliamentary committee established in May 2014 decided by majority vote in 2015 against sending the cases of the four ex-ministers accused of bribery and corruption -– including Bayraktar –- to Turkey’s Constitutional Court, which also functions as the Supreme State Council to hear cases brought against the country’s highest officials for crimes related to their official duties.

Both the former prime minister and current leader of the opposition Future Party (GP) Ahmet Davutoğlu and former culture and tourism minister for the ruling AKP Ertuğrul Günay recently claimed that President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had previously intervened to prevent the four ex-ministers who were implicated in bribery and corruption from facing trial.

Discussions regarding the December 17-25, 2013 bribery and corruption investigations were rekindled after Bayraktar’s revelations, with opposition leaders calling for the trial of the ex-ministers for graft so that they can be acquitted of the charges against them, if they were in fact innocent.

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

The graft scandal that erupted with the arrest of the sons of three then-ministers from the ruling AKP, Zarrab, the director of a state-owned bank, a district mayor and many more on December 17, 2013, also implicated Erdoğan’s children.

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 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.

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