ISTANBUL (Reuters) - A Turkish court on Tuesday acquitted the last 62 military officers jailed over an alleged 2003 plot to oust then-prime minister Tayyip Erdogan, after the judge ruled some of the digital evidence as inadmissible, a defence lawyer said.
In 2012, a court sentenced the officers to jail over the alleged conspiracy dating back to 2003, a year after Erdogan’s AK Party came to power. Erdogan is now president.
Last week an Istanbul court acquitted 236 other officers in connection with the alleged plot. Both trials were launched after the constitutional court ordered a retrial a year ago.
The defence lawyer told Reuters the digital evidence was rendered useless by major time-based inconsistencies.
They included a typeface used in documents allegedly dating to 2003 which did not become available in Microsoft Windows until 2007. In addition, a pharmaceuticals company was mentioned in similar documents by a name it did not go by until 2008.
The alleged plot, named “Sledgehammer” after a wargames scenario the army was studying at the time, was said to include plans to bomb mosques and trigger a conflict with Greece by shooting down one of Turkey’s own warplanes, paving the way for a military takeover.
The 2010-2012 trial was a high point in Erdogan’s drive to tame an army that for decades had dominated politics. Critics accused him at the time of using the courts to pursue a “witchhunt” against the generals.
In sending senior officers to jail, the case eroded the authority and power of NATO’s second biggest army at a time of tensions on the borders with Syria and Iraq. The retrial, which began last November, was seen as an opportunity for the military to repair its image.
Officials suggested evidence had been manipulated by Islamic cleric Fethulah Gulen, who had been using his influence in the police and judiciary to help Erdogan break the army’s power.
Gulen, who has become Erdogan’s bitter rival in recent years, denies any involvement in Sledgehammer investigations.
Writing by Dasha Afanasieva and Ece Toksabay; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky