EU probes corruption claims at Turkish govt agency

Bagis under the spotlight

The European Commission has launched an investigation into allegations that a Turkish government agency misused EU funds, the latest in a series of corruption charges to hit the embattled administration.
The probe follows reports in Turkish media of tender-rigging and illegal recruitment at the Centre for EU Education and Youth Programmes in Ankara under former EU minister Egemen Bagis.
"The audit follows allegations of irregularities relating to a lack of transparency for staff recruitment and a lack of compliance with EU and national rules for procurement by the national agency," the Commission's education spokesman Dennis Abbott said in an emailed statement Wednesday.
Bagis lost his job as EU minister after he was implicated in a major government corruption scandal that has set off the worst crisis in Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's 11-year rule.
Dozens of Erdogan's key business and political allies were rounded up in December over allegations of bribery in construction projects, money laundering, gold smuggling and illicit dealings with Iran.
EU hopeful Turkey's interior, economy and urbanisation ministers all resigned from their posts after their sons were detained.
The controversy has since widened to implicate Erdogan himself, after secret recordings were published online last week in which the premier can allegedly be heard discussing hiding large sums of cash and conspiring to extort a bribe from a business associate.
The 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 key local elections on March 30 and presidential elections in August.
Erdogan retaliated by sacking hundreds of police and prosecutors believed to be linked to Gulen, who denied any involvement in the scandal.
Turkey has been an official candidate for EU membership since 1999 and is a beneficiary of EU funds.
The Centre for EU Education and Youth Programmes is responsible for managing the EU-funded Erasmus programme and other education schemes in Turkey.
Local media reported that the EU Commission could suspend its education funds for Turkey if the allegations of corruption proved true.
But the Commission's education spokesman declined to comment on any potential fallout from the probe while it is still on-going.
"The Commission will inform the Turkish national authorities of the audit findings when available -- hopefully by the end of March," Abbott said.
He said the European Anti-Fraud Office had been informed of the allegations and the steps taken by the Commission but it was "too early to say" if it would undertake a full investigation.
Turkey's Minister for EU Affairs, Mevlut Cavusoglu, confirmed this week that the probe was under way and pledged to share the findings once it was concluded.
"We are very transparent on such issues," he said.