New recording of alleged corruption deals blow to Erdogan regime
ANKARA - Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's regime, mired in a corruption scandal, suffered a new blow on Sunday with the online release of another allegedly incriminating phone call involving an ex-minister and a businessman.
The recording of the phone conversation posted on the Internet was purportedly between Reza Zarrab, an Azerbaijani entrepreneur, and a confidant to whom Zarrab explains how former economy minister Zafer Caglayan allegedly complained about not having received a promised kickback of 10 million euros ($13.8 million).
The voice supposedly of Zarrab says he was "very surprised" that the ex-minister hadn't received the money which came from his company, saying it must have been "a mistake".
Caglayan and three other ministers were ousted from Erdogan's cabinet after a police raid on December 17 in the vast corruption probe, which involved Caglayan's son and several dozen high-profile political and business allies of the Islamic-rooted government.
Zarrab was among those arrested in the raid and charged before being released last week along several other suspects pending trial.
According to police documents, the minister's son Kaan Caglayan is accused of acting as an intermediary for giving and taking bribes, while Zarrab was suspected of forming a ring that bribed officials to disguise illegal gold sales to sanctions-hit Iran via state-owned Halkbank.
The latest online leak comes after a number of audio recordings were posted on social media sites, one allegedly of Erdogan himself discussing hiding large sums of cash and conspiring to extort a bribe from a business associate.
Erdogan, who has dismissed the recordings as fabricated by his rivals, has threatened to ban popular networks like YouTube and Facebook as part of his government's effort to get a tighter grip on the Internet.
The Turkish premier has accused supporters of exiled Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, who wields considerable influence in the judiciary and police, of launching the corruption probe to destabilise his government ahead of March 30 local elections and a presidential vote in August.