Turkey graft scandal: Four ex-ministers await decision on their fate

They face accusations of bribery and influence-peddling

Four former Turkish cabinet ministers will hear Monday whether they will stand trial on charges of corruption after losing their jobs in a spectacular graft scandal last year that rocked the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
A parliamentary commission is to decide whether to send the cases of the four men to the Supreme Council court, which only hears cases against cabinet ministers and other top officials.
Former interior minister Muammer Guler, ex-environment minister Erdogan Bayraktar, ex-economy minister Zafer Caglayan and ex-EU affairs minister Egemen Bagis face accusations of bribery and influence-peddling.
Caglayan was also accused of taking a $300,000 (245,000 euro) luxury watch to facilitate the smuggling of gold to Iran in breach of international sanctions.
"Decision day" headlined the Hurriyet daily above a picture of the four with their hands joined together.
They resigned in the wake of a corruption probe launched on December 17 last year that Erdogan angrily blamed on his arch foe, the US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen.
He accused Gulen of concocting the graft scandal and spreading leaks in social media to topple the government.
Erdogan has vowed no mercy in the fight against Gulen and the authorities have over the last year effectively purged the police force and judiciary to rid them of pro-Gulenist elements.
Thirty police, journalists and scriptwriters were detained in the latest arrests earlier this month in raids that have provoked a major rift with the EU.
A court also issued an arrest warrant for Gulen himself, although there appears for now little chance of his extradition from the US.
The scandal broke on December 17, 2013 when the sons of Guler, Bayraktar and Caglayan were detained by police in the corruption probe, as well as pro-AKP figures like the CEO of Halkbank Suleyman Aslan and construction tycoon Ali Agaoglu.
All were subsequently released. Prosecutors have since dropped the criminal case against 53 people due to a "lack of evidence", provoking howls of protest from the opposition.
The corruption scandal also touched Erdogan himself, after leaked tapes emerged in February where he allegedly told his son Bilal to dispose of some 30 million euros ($37 million) in cash on the day of the December 17 police raids.
Erdogan has dismissed the recordings as a "vile montage".
All four ministers protested their innocence when they appeared before the parliamentary commission, whose decision will be rubber-stamped by a plenary session of parliament in January.
Controversially, the Turkish judiciary has imposed a blackout on media coverage of the investigation, citing the presumption of innocence.
The allegations shook the government of Erdogan, who was prime minister at the time and had already faced an unprecedented wave of protests against his rule in June 2013.
However Erdogan emerged from the crisis even more pugnacious than before, vowing to crush Gulen as he swept to victory on August presidential elections.
But a parliamentary source said on condition of anonymity that the AKP, which holds the majority in parliament, was leaning towards sending the case of the ministers to court.
"With the parliamentary elections looming (in June), the authorities want to show that they are fighting corruption and can therefore try their own."
Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told an AKP congress on Sunday that he had a zero tolerance on corruption, saying the authorities will "break the arm" of anyone involved in graft "even if it is our own brother".
If parliament decides to send the case for trial, it will be heard by Turkey's rarely-used Supreme Council court, known in Turkish as the Yuce Divan.
The court is in effect the country's usual highest instance, the consitutional court, but uses a different name when it is called upon to try former ministers.
The meeting of the parliamentary commission is due to get underway at 1300 GMT with no decision expected before 1700 GMT.
The commission of inquiry is composed of 15 members, including nine from the AKP.