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Turkey

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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