One of the most annoying aspects of the massive corruption scandal in Turkey is the sheer incompetence coupled with unbelievable arrogance and brazen in-your-face behaviour of the alleged perpetrators.
I mean, really, what self-respecting thief would keep millions of dollars in a shoe box, of all things, tucked away in a closet? Another one of these geniuses managed to have his picture taken with a $350,000-watch prominently displayed. If you’re going to steal, do it with some subtlety. You don’t have to throw it in everyone’s face.
One doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry about the latest taped conversation between Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan and his son Bilal. Erdoğan is caught telling his son to move about €30 million from his house to various other locations. The prime minister is now yelling and screaming that the tapes are manufactured. But so far he has offered no proof of his claim. If he were serious the least he could do is have the tapes analysed by an independent expert.
All that cash in their homes?! Haven’t these guys ever heard of the Cayman Islands, Lichtenstein or even Switzerland? I will admit it is a little hard to see this crowd sipping chilled Margaritas with Jimmy Buffet on some Caribbean island. But you have to wonder about the sheer arrogance. If you’re sure you’re never going to get caught why bother some little island hide-away?
Then there is poor Muammer Güler, the former Minister of the Interior, who closely resembles a chubby little rabbit caught in the glare of the headlights of a huge truck. The taped conversations between him and his son who was arrested in the corruption probe provide some of the best humour of this entire situation.
He reminds me somewhat of a story I covered as a young reporter on the police beat. A burglar who held up a convenience store was amazed when the police found him so quickly after his crime. “How did you guys find me so fast,” he asked, genuinely puzzled. The police laughed that the clerk in the store could identify him because his name was written in large letters on his shirt.
One can almost feel sorry for Egeman Bağış, former Minister for the European Union, who reportedly got less than $2 million for services rendered to various shady characters. He must feel very hard done by when he reads that the former Minister for Industry collected more than $50 million – plus the watch – and even hapless Muammer Güler reportedly got more than $10 million.
While vehemently denying even a hint of corruption none of these people has offered the slightest bit of half-way convincing evidence of their innocence. It’s almost as if they are challenging anyone to do something about their alleged larceny. “Yeah, I did it. So what? There’s nothing you can do about it.”
And as long as Tayyip Erdoğan stays in power they are absolutely right. Nothing will be done. One minister was fired for being caught in the glare of corruption and then resigned from the party with nasty parting shots at the prime minister. He was brought sharply back into line when it was pointed out to him that the best way to avoid the unpleasantness of a trial was to support Erdoğan 100%. Then this case just might never come to trial.
In short, all these people owe their wealth to Erdoğan. Without his favour they would most likely be collecting unemployment checks. Any public trial of their behind-the-scenes activities would reflect very badly on the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). And with a series of important elections coming up this not something that Erdoğan can afford.
It has to be said that Turkish government officials are hardly the first to supplement their ordinary income with a few side deals. I remember one senior official from a large, relatively poor, Middle Eastern country who was returning home from Asia in the first class section, naturally, where the airline used real gold cutlery. This official saw no reason why he shouldn’t put that very nice cutlery into his brief case. The airline objected, and over the vigorous objections of the official searched his brief case. He was met by police when the plane landed. However, rather than punish the official for embarrassing the country, the president kept him in place. A friend close to the situation told me the president’s rationale for the lenient response was something like “Now I own him.”
And Erdoğan’s henchmen must be green with envy at the excesses of Viktor Yanukovich of the Ukraine. Next to him the Turks look like amateurs.
It is entirely possible that Erdoğan and his crew do not even recognize these alleged excess ‘payments’ as corruption. He actually said that if the famous money in the shoe box was not stolen from the state then it was not corruption. If this is his narrow definition of corruption then it is no wonder he finds it hard to accept that bribery of state officials is even unethical let alone criminal.
This situation would be worthy of a TV sit-com if it weren’t so serious and damaging. Turkey has a long list of serious problems that need urgent attention. Unfortunately, while the prime minister is so busy defending himself, his family and senior officials from wide ranging corruption allegations nothing is getting done on the country’s real agenda. Turkey has worked hard to climb out of the Third World category. Now it is hanging on by its finger nails to these hard won gains and is real danger of slipping backwards fast.