ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkey’s opposition accused the government on Wednesday of stalling tactics to avoid potentially damaging revelations from an inquiry into alleged corruption emerging in the run-up to an August presidential election.
Tayyip Erdogan, currently prime minister, is widely expected to win the Aug. 10 vote. But he could do without the corruption scandal re-emerging after it dogged his administration for months earlier this year.
A spokesman for his ruling AK Party rejected the idea that the government was holding up the inquiry and said the process should not be rushed.
Erdogan has cast the scandal, which led to the departure of four cabinet ministers, as an attempt by political rivals to unseat him. He responded with purges in which thousands of police and hundreds of judges and prosecutors were reassigned.
A parliamentary commission set up in May to study prosecutors’ files alleging wrongdoing by the four ministers, who denied the accusations, has hit a series of snags and only met for the first time last week after delays in nominating its members.
This week its chairman, Hakki Koylu of Erdogan’s ruling AK Party, sent the prosecutors’ dossier back unread because it failed to include index pages.
“This is absurd... It would not prevent us from studying the reports in any way,” Riza Turmen, a member of parliament for the opposition CHP who sits on the committee, told Reuters.
“What the government wants is to prevent the disclosure of the reports until after the elections,” he said.
The scandal and Erdogan’s reaction - including tightening internet controls and imposing a two-week ban on Twitter, as well as the purges - sparked an opposition outcry and criticism from the European Union and United States, among others.
Erdogan said the scandal was part of an attempted “judicial coup” by U.S.-based Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen, a former ally turned foe who wields influence in the police and judiciary. Gulen has denied any involvement.
AK Party spokesman Huseyin Celik said that the government was not stalling and that the index pages requested by the commission chairman were necessary.
“No one should expect an expedited investigation in a critical matter such as this,” he told reporters in Ankara, adding the government had nothing to fear.
“There is nothing that could come up (in these files) that could upset us prior to the presidential election. If there was such a thing it would already have come out into the open, many times,” Celik said.
The scandal erupted in December when scores of people, including businessmen close to Erdogan and three ministers’ sons, were detained by police investigating the award of illegal building permits in Istanbul and an alleged smuggling ring helping Iran exploit a loophole in the West’s sanctions regime.
In May, newly appointed prosecutors dropped cases against 60 suspects, seen as a significant victory for the government in its efforts to stamp out the probe.
Opposition MPs have raised concern that the AK Party’s parliamentary majority will undermine the commission’s work.
“If this commission turns into a commission of exoneration the reputation of parliament will be hurt, and we don’t want to become a tool for this,” Bengi Yildiz, commission member for the pro-Kurdish HDP opposition party, told Reuters.
Editing by Nick Tattersall and Hugh Lawson