Prosecutor Drops Charges for 53 Defendants Involved in Erdogan Corruption Scandal

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On Friday, a Turkish prosecutor dropped charges against 53 defendants involved in a “sprawling corruption case that had reached the highest levels of Turkish politics” and had threatened the government of recently elected President Tayyip Erdogan. The case “posed one of the biggest challenges to Erdogan’s 11-year rule as Prime Minister,” which led to the resignation of three members of his cabinet and sparked international criticism regarding the way Erdogan handled the scandal, by “tightening internet controls and reassigning police, judges and prosecutors.”

The defendants included two sons of former cabinet ministers, as well as the former manager of the state-run Halkbank, who was caught hiding nearly $5 million cash in shoe boxes. Broadcaster CNN Turk reported that “Istanbul prosecutors ruled that there was no case to answer as evidence had not been collected appropriately, there was no evidence of a crime and no criminal gang was uncovered.”

Other lesser charges are still pending for some of the defendants, and a separate parliamentary inquiry continues. According to Tim Arango from the New York Times, “the news… was a further indication that Mr. Erdogan, who at on time seemed in jeopardy of becoming ensnared in the case himself, has largely weathered the episode. Still, the dismissal of the charges is likely to further inflame Mr. Erdogan’s many critics, who say he has undermined the independence of the judiciary through a series of measures, including replacing judges and prosecutors, as a way to survive the corruption investigation.”

Arango also stated that the case was perceived as a power struggle between Erdogan and Fethullah Gulen, the Muslim spiritual leader who lives in exile in Pennsylvania and who was once a former ally of Erdogan. The latter accused Gulen of “carrying out a politically motivated corruption inquiry,” after they had fall outs over several issues, “including the direction of the country under Erdogan, once seen as a democratic reformer but whose many critics say took an authoritarian turn.”