The numerous audio recordings leaked since Dec. 17, when a major graft scandal involving prominent public figures close to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan came to light, reveals that businessmen have paid millions of dollars in bribes promised to government officials in return for favors in public tenders.
Voice recordings regarding Turkuaz Media Group, obtained through legal wiretaps and shared by Twitter user Haramzadeler earlier in February, revealed that the government allegedly collected millions of dollars from businessmen, promising favors in a big government tender to buy the media group.
Cengiz Holding owner Mehmet Cengiz, Kolin İnşaat owner Celal Koloğlu, Limak Holding owner Nihat Özdemir, IC Holding owner İbrahim Çeçen and one unknown businessperson allegedly contributed a total of $100 million each to the pool to buy the media group. Other businesspeople contributed smaller amounts, including Adnan Çebi with $30 million and Hayrettin Özaltın’s sum of $20 million. Çeçen is reportedly willing to give an additional $50 million if he is allowed a favorable place in the third Bosporus Bridge tender. According to the voice recordings, it is unknown whether Muzaffer Nasıroğlu and Abdullah Tivnikli contributed to the pool.
Similarly, the return of a valuable piece of land in the Şişli district of İstanbul to a Bulgarian foundation in 2012 has raised bribery allegations, as it involved a development project by the Taş Yapı Construction Company, whose owner stands accused in the corruption scandal that was exposed in December of last year.
It appears that Emrullah Turanlı, the owner of Taş Yapı, had plans for a project on the Şişli land, including the construction of a shopping mall, residences and a hotel, and he needed approval to carry out a project in a special area. A bribery ring thus made efforts to profit from the project by changing the zoning plan.
The alleged leader of the bribery ring, Hüseyin Avni Sipahi, ensured that the land in Şişli was turned into a special project area with the approval of Environment and Urban Planning Minister Erdoğan Bayraktar.
Turanlı allegedly met with Erdoğan in Ankara on July 17 of last year to request that the Şişli land be turned into a special project area. Following the meeting, Erdoğan is claimed to have given an order to Bayraktar to complete the procedures related to the project.
On Dec. 27 of last year, after being arrested in the second wave of the corruption operation, Turanlı told the Bugün daily about the bribery allegations against the minister: “Ten municipalities illegally took TL 20 million from me. Everything has been recorded.”
Within the scope of the corruption and bribery investigation, prosecutors charged the minister and his son Abdullah Oğuz Bayraktar with granting privileges to certain individuals by helping them obtain approval on special project areas for the development area known as Bakırköy 46, which belongs to Ağaoğlu Construction; the development project on the property of the Bulgarian foundation to be carried out by the Taş Yapı Construction Company was one of them.
“Principles and transparency are lacking in current [Turkish] politics,” Mehmet Altan, a professor at İstanbul University, told Sunday’s Zaman. Altan also stressed that construction companies have financed politics dozens of times through changes in the Public Procurement Law since the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) first came to power in 2002, and that amendments in competition laws prevent the efficient use of resources in Turkey.
On Jan. 1, the Financial Times put emphasis on the ever-increasing activity of Erdoğan and government in Turkey’s construction sector, as the second phase of the major corruption investigation launched on Dec. 25 shifted the attention towards issues in public tenders and big construction projects.
“In private conversations with the FT, two leading Turkish businessmen said bribes were sometimes necessary to go ahead with big construction projects, although the government emphasizes that Turkey has improved its standing in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index over the past decade to 53rd out of 177 countries this year,” the daily reported.
The daily maintained that Erdoğan plays a leading role in the sector: according to a notice published in the Official Gazette in June, all transfers of state companies’ real estate holdings have to be approved by the prime minister.
In a more recent audio recording uploaded to YouTube in late February, two people, allegedly the prime minister and his son Bilal Erdoğan, are discussing a lower-than-promised bribe from a businessman whose name is mentioned by Bilal as Sıtkı. In the recording, Erdoğan ordered Bilal to hold out for a better offer in an unspecified deal with the businessman: “Don’t take it [the money]. Whatever he has promised us, that’s what he should bring. If he is not going to bring that, there is no need,” says the voice on the recording. “The others are bringing [that amount]. Why can’t he bring it? What do they think this business is? … But don’t worry, they will fall into our lap.”
The second audio track, with accompanying text, says the businessman mentioned in the tape is Sıtkı Ayan, the chairman of İstanbul-based transportation company Turang. Some media outlets claim the conversation may have been be about government incentives that Turang was granted for a business deal in Iran. Turang received a license in 2010 to build part of a pipeline intended to carry gas from Iran and Turkmenistan to Europe through Turkey, according to its website. It was granted incentives including tax exemptions on investments of up to TL 11.5 billion ($5.2 billion) from the government in December, according to the Economy Ministry’s website. Representatives of Turang were not immediately available for comment as of Thursday morning.
Yet, it seems that the scope of bribery has not been limited to the construction sector, as new audio recordings posted on YouTube last weekend confirmed bribery involving Bilal Erdoğan.
In the conversation, Mehmet Fatih Saraç, known as “Alo Fatih” for his close ties to Erdoğan and for seeming to act as a monitor of Ciner Media Group’s publishing policy for Erdoğan, tells Bilal that Ali Kibar will donate to the Turkish Youth and Education Foundation (TÜRGEV), of which Bilal Erdoğan is an executive board member. Bilal responds by asking if the money is “zakat” — an Islamic form of donation to charity — or something different. Saraç replies that money is not being given as zakat.
In 2011, Turkey’s national flag carrier Turkish Airlines (THY) agreed to commence the mass production of an aircraft seats project amounting $5 billion jointly with Kibar Holding, with an eventual goal of marketing them overseas.