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Erdoğan could challenge election results using alleged fake sex tape as pretext: journalist

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Turkey’s political scene is heating up as investigative journalist Cevheri Güven suggests President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan may exploit a sex tape scandal to potentially challenge today’s election results should he lose.

The tape, alleged to be fraudulent, features Muharrem İnce, a former presidential candidate and leader of the Homeland Party.

İnce, who ignored opposition pleas not to run for fear of splitting the anti-Erdoğan vote, found himself embroiled in controversy as the allegedly fake sex tape circulated ahead of the elections. He withdrew from the race on Thursday, citing an onslaught of “insults” and “false accusations.” His exit coincided with a steep drop in his popularity, as polls indicated his garnering less than 2 percent of the vote. İnce dismissed the video as fake and attributed the plot to the faith-based Gülen movement, inspired by Turkish cleric Fethullah Gülen, a US resident.

The Turkish government labels the Gülen movement as a terrorist organization, blaming it for a failed 2016 coup — a charge the movement denies. İnce’s association of the Gülen movement with the video originates from its promotion by a Twitter account operating under the name of Ali Yeşildağ, a former Erdoğan ally who is now sought by Turkish authorities. Yeşildağ recently made shocking allegations about Erdoğan’s purported corruption via YouTube videos aired by Güven.

Yeşildağ maintains he does not operate accounts on other social media platforms. Tuğrulcan Elmas, a social media manipulation researcher, posits that the Twitter account disseminating these videos has previously used different names and targeted opposition members, leading him to suspect that it may be an operation conducted by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).

The Erdoğan administration has responded by accusing main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader and current presidential candidate Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu of using sex tapes to eliminate political rivals. This harks back to 2010, when Kılıçdaroğlu assumed leadership of the CHP after his predecessor, Deniz Baykal, resigned following the leak of a genuine video of him engaged in an extramarital affair.

Güven, known for his sharp coverage of Turkish politics, cites confidential sources for his explosive allegation. He accuses Erdoğan of launching a new coup investigation, centered on the notion that İnce’s withdrawal from the presidential race was an “intervention in democratic elections.”

Following İnce’s claims of a defamation campaign against him, Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor Ahmet Akça initiated an investigation. Viewing İnce as a “public official,” the investigation centers on alleged crimes committed against him, including “blackmail,” “threat,” “document forgery,” “unlawful acquisition and dissemination of personal data,” and “invasion of privacy.” Güven suggests that treating İnce’s case as a crime against the constitutional order is akin to launching a “coup” investigation.

Of the 17 individuals implicated in the investigation, 12 have been detained, including Kemal Özkiraz, an Erdoğan critic and president of the Eurasia Public Research Center (AKAM). Four other individuals are reportedly abroad, and one is said to be at large.

The scandal adds a new layer of complexity to the Turkish elections, with Erdoğan trailing Kılıçdaroğlu in most polls. Güven warns that the opposition might be underestimating the investigation’s potential reach, which could extend beyond the currently implicated individuals.

He further alleges that key players in the investigation, from the Ankara chief public prosecutor to İnce’s attorney, Fidel Okan, are all part of an Erdoğan administration plot.

Furthermore, Güven contends that the Erdoğan administration is behind the scandal’s fabrication. He asserts that the Turkish police’s cyber unit and the Presidential Communications Directorate manufactured the evidence. Güven further insists that the investigation was pre-prepared and that İnce’s withdrawal from the presidential race was part of a premeditated plan.

With the elections underway, these allegations cast a pall over the already strained political climate.

İnce’s lawyer Okan recently took to Twitter to address the ongoing investigation. He confirmed that İnce is viewed as a “public official” within the scope of the investigation, which encompasses several crimes allegedly committed against him. Okan also stated that among the “suspects” implicated in spreading defamatory material against İnce, four are being investigated for ties to the Gülen movement.

Okan also revealed that a detention warrant has been issued for Oktay Yaşar, operator of the Ankara Kuşu Twitter account, an influential handle covering Turkish politics and posting speculation citing insider information. Okan added that similar orders have been issued against Güven and Yeşildağ, who are both being sought.

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