Hardly do I ever point out a dismal state of the Turkish opposition and the media, because the government, in my opinion, is a bigger threat to freedoms in Turkey. Yet I couldn’t help but notice the immense hypocrisy that in part fuels the government’s ongoing abuse of power.
Sage observers of Turkey like to quip that “Erdogan is not smart. The opposition is stupid.” Nowhere is this more true than in the case of Reza Zarrab, an Iranian gold trader that built a sprawling network of bribery embroiling high-level Turkish officials.
When this web of corruption came to light four years ago, the Turkish public and the opposition realized the extent of corruption that penetrated into the government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, then the prime minister. When the government launched a counter-measure with overwhelming power, the opposition let those who documented these allegations be at Erdogan’s mercy. No forceful support.
Is this surprising? No. But the level of indifference is mind-boggling. When people of law are thrown into prisons for upholding the law, every freedom-loving man and woman should stand up against this in outrage — regardless of partisanship or differences in worldview.
Now that there is a renewed interest in the case of Zarrab in the U.S., it is timely to remind that Zarrab didn’t only bust U.S. sanctions for the interest of Iran, but also generously bribed senior Turkish officials as part of his scheme. And the real heroes who uncovered this bribery scheme are now in prison, with the opposition doing almost nothing to highlight their cases.
The Turkish government is putting up an extraordinary fight for the release of Zarrab from the U.S. federal custody. Ankara is putting pressure on the U.S. government to be more lenient while at the same time discrediting whatever may come out of the courtroom.
The Turkish media already started spreading rumors that Zarrab is being tortured by the FBI, a false campaign designed to undermine Zarrab’s possible revelations about the Turkish government.
Zarrab’s capture in the U.S. has been the government’s biggest blunder. This is not the first time Zarrab is seeing inside of a prison. Four years ago, Turkish authorities arrested Zarrab and his accomplices, including sons of ex-ministers, for the graft scheme that shook Turkey.
The incriminating evidence was so solid that even footage and pictures of bribe and graft were included in the indictment. The 14-month confidential investigation included damning phone conversations of dozens of individuals involved in the scheme.
Erdogan went to extraordinary length to release suspects from the prison and shut down the investigation. Since the investigation didn’t move forward through the judicial system, prosecutors leaked the evidence on the social media.
Bombarded with the almost daily release of implicating phone conversations, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s greatest communicator, spun the narrative so skillfully that his supporters framed the tapes as “doctored” and allegations as a “coup attempt with global links.”
In a bruising electoral campaign in early 2014, the corruption allegations, with damaging phone conversations out on YouTube, became a rare political fodder for the Turkish opposition. The tape recordings were so embarrassing that Erdogan even blocked Twitter and YouTube to censor the content.
After the release of a phone conversation between Erdogan and his son in which they were discussing how to hide huge sums of cash, the Turkish opposition declared that the Turkish government doesn’t have legitimacy. It was an immense gift to the opposition. It was perhaps the single most damaging piece of evidence against Erdogan since he came to power in 2003. Almost every government critic in Turkey used these corruption allegations to highlight the corrupt nature of the Erdogan’s government.
Prosecutors who risked their careers and freedom to collect the evidence and police chiefs who carried out corruption raids are, unsurprisingly, in prison. Most of them have been languishing in prison for more than three years now. Just this week, the Turkish government also arrested wives of these police chiefs.
The opponents of Erdogan who once applauded these corruption revelations and who are now euphoric over the possibility that Zarrab will sing have uttered no word for imprisoned police chiefs and prosecutors.
Opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu, who built his 2014 electoral campaign around this revelations, is silent over the arrest of bureaucrats who made this possible. MHP leader Devlet Bahceli, who used colorful language to signal Erdogan’s inevitable finale in politics due to this probe, is now ganged up with the government to re-elect him.
Why am I telling this? So that you know what type of opposition we are dealing with.
Preet Bharara, a former Manhattan attorney that supervised Zarrab’s case in the U.S., tweeted ellipsis when reminded that wives of Turkish police chiefs in the Zarrab case were arrested. Turkish opposition and so-called critical media can’t even do that.