Why Turkey's Bribery Probe Stopped Short Of Erdogan's Son

The unfolding scandal of alleged bribery by people close to the ruling AKP party looked set to reach Bilal Erdogan, but the investigating magistrate was removed from the case.

Why Turkey's Bribery Probe Stopped Short Of Erdogan's Son
Ismet Berkan

A crackdown against alleged corruption in Turkey involving family members of government ministers is threatening the decade-long hold on power of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The stakes multiplied last week after an Istanbul prosecutor launched a second wave of the operation, calling on more detentions of people associated with a charitable organization that Bilal Erdogan, the Prime Minister’s son, helps oversee. But the police refused to carry out a court order, and the investigating prosecutor was removed from the probe.

ISTANBUL – The crisis in Turkey is now focused on a showdown between the head prosecutor of Istanbul and the prosecutor working under him. It is a conflict that exposes all the faults of our system.

The junior prosecutor says his investigation is blocked; that the police did not carry out the detentions despite the court orders. This in itself is a very serious claim.

Yet the claims of the head prosecutor are even more serious. He says that the prosecutor running this investigation does not have such authority since the case does not include accusations of force and violence; and even more troubling, the head prosecutor says the evidence of the investigation is not strong enough.

I am not even sure we can talk about the existence of law anymore; but in our current law, the police have two hats. One of the hats is of ‘preventive police’ and the other is ‘judicial police.’

The police are under the command of the state’s executive power when it wears the former hat, acting to prevent crimes from being committed as enforcer of the law. But, when the crime or the suspicion of crime has already occurred, the police fall under the command of the prosecutor in their role of ‘judicial police.’ Being under the command of the prosecutor means being under the command of the legislative power instead of the executive.

So, what just happened in Istanbul? A disagreement occurred between the head prosecutor and a prosecutor over an investigation that allegedly includes the son of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

For the general public in Turkey, they are probably seeing such a standoff for the first time: prosecutors fighting each other publicly with statements in the press. But it exposes standing weaknesses in the nation’s judicial system.

There are two central reasons we have wound up here. 1. The separation of powers in our country has always be on paper only. 2. We never made the quality of the investigations of our prosecutors an issue.

Let us begin with the latter: Only 17 out of every 100 investigations opened by our prosecutors end with convictions. And yet these investigations last for an average of 648 days. Add the 285 days that a trial typically takes, and I will let you guess the number of people victimized by the prosecutor’s offices.

We will continue to have such problems as long as prosecutors aren’t called to account, and the number of convictions remains so paltry.

Of course when the matter is about the son of the prime minister, things are different, and he doesn’t have to worry about being wronged by the police. What about the regular people? They are detained, remain under arrest for years and their lives destroyed, even if they wind up acquited in the end.

Due process

But now, let us come to the first basic fault in the system: the nonexistence of the separation of powers.

It is bad enough that the executive power has supervision authority over the legislative branch. But the executive is actually the boss of the legislators. This hurts our democracy, and leaves it defenseless against authoritarianism.

It is expected that over time such a strong executive organ will begin to influence the judiciary while in office. But last week’s police refusal to obey the court order shows the executive power is ready to directly disregard the law as well.

We should be as vigilant about due legal process as we are as protecting the rights of legislators to carry out their function. Due process can wind up being a necessary safeguard for everybody someday. Once you start to disregard the law, you open a door to things far worse than military coups.

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Ecological Angst In India, A Mining Dumpsite As Neighbor

Local villagers in western India have been forced to live with a mining waste site on the edge of town. What happens when you wake up one day and the giant mound of industrial waste has imploded?

The mining dumpsite is situated just outside of the Badi village in the coastal state of Gujarat

Sukanya Shantha

BADI — Last week, when the men and women from the Bharwad community in this small village in western India stepped out for their daily work to herd livestock, they were greeted with a strange sight.

The 20-meter-high small hill that had formed at the open-cast mining dumpsite had suddenly sunk. Unsure of the reason behind the sudden caving-in, they immediately informed other villagers. In no time, word had traveled far, even drawing the attention of environment specialists and activists from outside town.

This mining dumpsite situated less than 500 meters outside of the Badi village in the coastal state of Gujarat has been a matter of serious concern ever since the Gujarat Power Corporation Limited began lignite mining work here in early 2017. The power plant is run by the Power Gujarat State Electricity Corporation Limited, which was previously known as the Bhavnagar Energy Company Ltd.

Vasudev Gohil, a 43-year-old resident of Badi village says that though the dumping site is technically situated outside the village, locals must pass the area on a daily basis.

"We are constantly on tenterhooks and looking for danger signs," he says. Indeed, their state of alert is how the sudden change in the shape of the dumpsite was noticed in the first place.

Can you trust environmental officials?

For someone visiting the place for the first time, the changes may not stand out. "But we have lived all our lives here, we know every little detail of this village. And when a 150-meter-long stretch cave-in by over 25-30 feet, the change can't be overlooked," Gohil adds.

This is not the first time that the dumpsite has worried local residents. Last November, a large part of the flattened part of the dumpsite had developed deep cracks and several flat areas had suddenly got elevated. While the officials had attributed this significant elevation to the high pressure of water in the upper strata of soil in the region, environment experts had pointed to seismic activities. The change is evident even today, nearly a year since it happened.

It could have sunk because of the rain.

After the recent incident, when the villagers raised an alarm and sent a written complaint to the regional Gujarat Pollution Control Board, an official visit to the site was arranged, along with the district administration and the mining department.

The regional pollution board officer Bhavnagar, A.G. Oza, insists the changes "aren't worrisome" and attributes it to the weather.

"The area received heavy rain this time. It is possible that the soil could have sunk in because of the rain," he tells The Wire. The Board, he says, along with the mining department, is now trying to assess if the caving-in had any impact on the ground surface.

"We visited the site as soon as a complaint was made. Samples have already been sent to the laboratory and we will have a clear idea only once the reports are made available," Oza adds.

Women from the Surkha village have to travel several kilometers to find potable water

Sukanya Shantha/The Wire

A questionable claim

That the dumpsite had sunk in was noticeable for at least three days between October 1 and 3, but Rohit Prajapati of an environmental watchdog group Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti, noted that it was not the first time.

"This is the third time in four years that something so strange is happening. It is a disaster in the making and the authorities ought to examine the root cause of the problem," Prajapati says, adding that the department has repeatedly failed to properly address the issue.

He also contests the GPCB's claim that excess rain could lead to something so drastic. "Then why was similar impact not seen on other dumping sites in the region? One cannot arrive at conclusions for geological changes without a deeper study of them," he says. "It can have deadly implications."

Living in pollution

The villagers have also accused the GPCB of overlooking their complaint of water pollution which has rendered a large part of the land, most importantly, the gauchar or grazing land, useless.

"In the absence of a wall or a barrier, the pollutant has freely mixed with the water bodies here and has slowly started polluting both our soil and water," complains 23- year-old Nikul Kantharia.

He says ever since the mining project took off in the region, he, like most other villagers has been forced to take his livestock farther away to graze. "Nothing grows on the grazing land anymore and the grass closer to the dumpsite makes our cattle ill," Kantharia claims.

The mining work should have been stopped long ago

Prajapati and Bharat Jambucha, a well-known environmental activist and proponent of organic farming from the region, both point to blatant violations of environmental laws in the execution of mining work, with at least 12 violations cited by local officials. "But nothing happened after that. Mining work has continued without any hassles," Jambucha says. Among some glaring violations include the absence of a boundary wall around the dumping site and proper disposal of mining effluents.

The mining work has also continued without a most basic requirement – effluent treatment plant and sewage treatment plant at the mining site, Prajapati points out. "The mining work should have been stopped long ago. And the company should have been levied a heavy fine. But no such thing happened," he adds.

In some villages, the groundwater level has depleted over the past few years and villagers attribute it to the mining project. Women from Surkha village travel several kilometers outside for potable water. "This is new. Until five years ago, we had some water in the village and did not have to lug water every day," says Shilaben Kantharia.

The mine has affected the landscape around the villages

Sukanya Shantha/The Wire

Resisting lignite mining

The lignite mining project has a long history of resistance. Agricultural land, along with grazing land were acquired from the cluster of 12 adjoining villages in the coastal Ghogha taluka between 1994 and 1997. The locals estimate that villagers here lost anything between 40-100% of their land to the project. "We were paid a standard Rs 40,000 per bigha," Narendra, a local photographer, says.

The money, Narendra says, felt decent in 1994 but for those who had been dependent on this land, the years to come proved very challenging. "Several villagers have now taken a small patch of land in the neighboring villages on lease and are cultivating cotton and groundnut there," Narendra says.

They were dependent on others' land for work.

Bharat Jambucha says things get further complicated for the communities which were historically landless. "Most families belonging to the Dalit or other marginalized populations in the region never owned any land. They were dependent on others' land for work. Once villagers lost their land to the project, the landless were pushed out of the village," he adds. His organization, Prakrutik Kheti Juth, has been at the forefront, fighting for the rights of the villages affected in the lignite mining project.

In 2017, when the mining project finally took off, villagers from across 12 villages protested. The demonstration was disrupted after police used force and beat many protesters. More than 350 of them were booked for rioting.

The villagers, however, did not give up. Protests and hunger strikes have continued from time to time. A few villagers even sent a letter to the President of India threatening that they would commit suicide if the government did not return their land.

"We let them have our land for over 20 years," says Gohil.

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