ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said graft allegations against four former ministers were part of a “coup attempt”, denying on Tuesday accusations the government had put pressure on a parliamentary commission not to send them to trial.
The head of the commission, dominated by the ruling AK Party, said some police phone taps of the ex-ministers would be destroyed, a move which would make it more difficult for any subsequent prosecutor to revive the case.
“Normally the prosecutor should have done this but because they haven‘t, an investigation is being launched into them. We will be the ones destroying these tapes,” commission head Hakki Koylu told Reuters.
The commission voted on Monday not to commit the four ex-ministers for trial, a decision the opposition decried as a cover-up.
Davutoglu followed the lead of President Tayyip Erdogan in dismissing the corruption scandal, which erupted in December 2013, as a plot by political enemies.
Davutoglu told a weekly parliamentary meeting of the AK Party that it would be against the law for the government to impose a decision on the commission, and cast anti-government protests in 2013 and the graft scandal as part of a wider plot.
“It was all, without doubt, a coup attempt and we have stood tall against this,” he said.
“PROTECTOR OF THIEVES”
Erdogan blames the scandal on supporters of his former ally, U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen. The government reacted with a purge of the state apparatus, reassigning thousands of police and hundreds of judges and prosecutors in what the authorities said was a cleansing of the cleric’s influence.
The scandal swirled around the inner circle of then-prime minister Erdogan and led to the resignation of the ministers of economy, interior and urbanization. European Union Affairs Minister Egemen Bagis lost his post in a subsequent reshuffle. All four have denied wrongdoing.
The parliamentary commission was set up last May to decide whether the men’s ministerial immunity should be lifted.
All nine AK Party MPs were against, and all five opposition members in favor. A final decision will be taken in a full session of parliament, where the AK holds a large majority.
“It does not bode well for parliament to be the protector of thieves ... We will be mocked by the whole world,” said Kemal Kilicdaroglu, head of the main opposition party.
Turkey’s Western allies have voiced alarm at creeping authoritarianism. Erdogan has responded by telling European partners to “keep their wisdom to themselves”.
Additional reporting by Humeyra Pamuk in Istanbul; Writing by Jonny Hogg; Editing by Nick Tattersall