Not groundless it is to establish parallels between ex. Prime Minister of Malaysia Najib Razak, who lost the election, with the money discovered in his house and trying to flee from the country, and the story of the President of Turkey Tayyip Erdoğan. The connection is based not only on the two countries being called “lands of government-centered corruption”, or only on close friendship of the two leaders; there is something much more than that.
During of the operation, held in Mr. Razak’s home, boxes and bags full of dollars, jewelries and diamonds were expropriated. The autocratic leader of Turkey Mr. Erdogan struggles with allegations against himself and his son Bilal Erdogan who was made to clean hundreds of millions of dollars out of his house. Furthermore, both leaders used the resembling methods of covering themselves from the corruption-related investigations against them, with a two-year gap. Mr. Razak stood the pressure for three years and got overthrown at the election. Can the same picture emerge after the early election in Turkey to be held on June 24? The answer to this question lays not in the common points, but in the differences. The differences between Turkey and Malaysia, Mr. Erdogan and Mr. Razak indicate that such picture is not quite possible.
In the morning of December 17, 2013, Turkey woke up to the huge anti-corruption operation. Four AKP’s ministers, their sons, one AKP’s lord mayor, businesspersons related to Mr. Erdogan and dozens of bureaucrats were under suspicion. One of the investigations was related to an Iranian gold trader Reza Zarrab. The young businessperson allegedly used the Turkey’s public bank “Halk Bankasi” in order to evade the international embargo against Tehran, and used millions of Dollars/Euro as bribe to banks and their general managers for that purpose. In fact, he would later confirm all those allegations to be true during another process taken place in New York.
As a result of the operation held in Turkey on December 17, 2013, shoe boxes and fiber bath full of foreign currency were discovered in the house of General Manager of “Halk Bank”, Suleyman Aslan; seven full cash boxes and Money counter machines were discovered in the house of Minister of Internal Affairs of that period, Muammer Guler, and his son Baris Guler.
No one knew that day, but early in the morning Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Prime Minister of that period, was making a call on the crypto comfort telephone to his son Bilal Erdogan that was in Istanbul and in a huge panic. He asked his son to take all the money in the house and “zeroize them”. Much later, those conversations that will be remembered as “zeroizing cassette” would get on the Internet on February 24, 2014.
The conversation started like this:
“R. Tayyip Erdogan: Now I am saying, everything that is in your house, you just take them out. Is it ok?
Bilal Erdogan: What can I have, father; there is your money in the safe.
R. Tayyip Erdogan: I am talking about them. I will now send your sister (Sumeyye Erdogan) to you, is it ok?
Right after this conversation, Sumeyye Erdoğan left the house and was on her way to Istanbul. HTS records on the phone, MOBESE camera records and testimony of VIP passengers traveling with her confirm this information. The purpose of sending Mr. Erdogan’s daughter to Istanbul was to instruct her brother on where and how to distribute the money from the house. Because as their father Tayyip Erdogan said to Bilal “even though this is a crypto comfort telephone, let us not talk on it about everything”. That is why he was forced to speak in a low voice and often scold his son, which was frequently unable to hide the information. Until the noon of the next day, they made five different telephone conversations, and they got on the Internet as well.
For example, during the conversation at 03:39 Bilal Erdogan summarized his father on what he had done, and informed him of a part of the money having been distributed; he was saying: “We will arrange the remaining part when it is dark already. God willing”. The Father-PM on the other hand warned, “Do not talk on the telephones”.
The following dialogue took place during the phone call at 11:15 PM:
“Bilal Erdogan: Now daddy, we made it pretty much.
R. Tayyip Erdogan: What do you mean by ‘pretty much’… did you zeroize it, or not…
Bilal Erdogan: Not zeriozed yet, daddy. I mean, there is an amount of about 30 million Euro, we could not… yet melt it.”
After that, they were discussing the variants of places where the money could be distributed, different names and sums quoted. Bial made an advice: “I mean, distribute $5 million to Calik (a businessman Ahmet Calik related to Mr. Erdogan), and with the remaining sum we can buy a flat in Sehrizar”. Ten days later 14.1 billion Turkish Liras in total would have been spent on 6 villas in Sehrizar Konaklari estate, facing the Bosphorus. Land registration papers for them would later be reflected in the media.
There are various speculations related to what the total sum of “zeroized” money was. The widespread allegation is that it was about $1 billion. In order to save himself from this investigation, Mr. Erdogan illegally liquidated thousands of police officers. He dismissed the prosecutors and this way closed the corruption-related investigations. A huge witch-hunt had started. Changes were made in legislation. The Supreme Council of Judges and Public Prosecutors institution was actually made dependent on him. He openly stated he did not recognize the Constitution. He confiscated and closed the dissident media organs. He got opposition leaders and parliamentarians arrested. He suspended the democracy, independent judiciary and perspective of EU membership. Instead of those, he organized the power of his own will and repressions.
At the time, Turkey had learned the news from Malaysia. The parliamentarian Sezgin Tanrikulu of the secular opposition party CHP, had given a resolution of questions to the Parliament, that was meant to be answered by Vice Prime Minister of the time and Government Spokesman Bulent Arinc. The first question was about the money found on five different villas since December 17, the significant part of which allegedly was later distributed by minibuses to Calik Holding building and after that transported to Malaysia. The next questions to Mr. Tanrikulu were as follows:
“That was not planned, but suddenly the visit to the Far East was put on agenda, and the money that were held in the Calik Holding building were transported on a plane reserved for the visit to the Far East; is this allegation true?
Aiming the visit to the Far East not to look suspicious, it was planned so that to cover three countries (Japan, Singapore, Malaysia); is this allegation true? The visit to Japan and Singapore were totally organized for show only; is this allegation true?
Recep Tayyip Erdogan himself and his family requested the political asylum in Malaysia; is this allegation true? If it is, is the allegation true that the political asylum in Malaysia was granted to Recep Tayyip Erdogan himself and his family?”
Bulent Arinc left this resolution of questions unanswered. Mr. Erdogan also had not answered those allegations. However, during that visit to Malaysia he was welcomed very warmly. At the time being a correspondent for Prime Minister, I also followed that visit. At the International Islamic University of Malaysia, he received an honorary doctorate, as if he was literally the spiritual leader.
Paying him so much attention that day, Najip Razak would face a resembling situation a year and a half later. I mean actually Najib Razak initially faced all the basic allegations for the investigation in July 2015. He followed Mr. Erdogan’s path and dismissed the prosecutor, oppressed the media and this way got out of the investigation.
In the year 2009, Mr. Razak allegedly used the public company “1MalaysiaDevelopment Bhd” (1MDB) that he founded on his own to embezzle $681 million. This sum, transferred on his account among the operations in March-April, 2013, allegedly was a bribery to himself. During the protests in the capital city Kuala Lumpur that lasted for days, Mr. Razak was called for resignation. Instead of resigning, Mr. Razak, such as Mr. Erdogan, had chosen the way of covering the investigation by oppressing the law and media. He got the Chief Prosecutor dismissed. He got Enver Ibrahim, who was his deputy criticizing him, dismissed and imprisoned. The newly assigned Chief Prosecutor Mohamed Apandi Ali declared that “The Money are not bribe but a donation from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia” and this way closed the file.
However, after using such methods for 3 years, Najib Razak made his people very mad. Despite the mass calls for resignation, Mr. Razak did not resign and finally lost the election held on last week. This time the Chief Prosecutor and police officers, assigned by his own, performed a corruption-related operation against Mr. Razak, following the order of the new Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad.
News came out that last Friday at 02:00 AM Mr. Razak was going to escape from the country on his private jet. The same night Mr. Razak and his family were banned from traveling abroad by the new Prime Minister Mohamad.
With great interest, Turkey watched the footage of numerous boxes with Money and jewelry discovered in Mr. Razak’s house during the operation. Especially the circles shared those videos on the Internet. In the comments people said that, could it be possible to enter Mr. Ergodan’s house 4 years ago, the same footage might have been gotten.
There is an early election to be held in Turkey on June 26. Can we call it an opportunity? In the beginning of this article, I gave an answer “Not quite possible”, and I have a number of reasons to say so. Firstly, the reaction of the people in Malaysia and the people in Turkey to corruption is different. In Malaysia, even the alleged bribe of $700 million got huge masses flow on the streets and protest. In addition, there are files on bribing connected with Mr. Erdogan, his family and close relatives, in which the sums are some times bigger than that. Despite that, neither protest actions nor mass calls for resignation took place; at the same time, the AKP political party had reinforced the floor under Mr. Ersogan’s feet. Mr. Ergodan is still seen by approximately 50% of the masses as a national and religious hero.
Another reason is that Mr. Erdogan consolidated all the power in his hands, from justice to legislation, from police and security to intelligence service. Particularly, the ally relations gotten by means of the old “deep state” extensions also strengthen his hand. There is not any resource left to call him to account.
Another factor, though Mr. Razak was facing the point and local allegations, Mr. Erdogan is to be called to account for the corruption system (“monetary pool system”) he founded back in the year 1994. That means he has much more to lose and the price to be paid is so huge that it is incomparable to Mr. Razak’s one.
Another reason is that there is no free election left in Turkey. There is no trust in ballot box. There is a one-voice media. The institution YSK (Supreme Election Committee) also cannot be called independent.
Another factor is that the political party “United Malays National Organization” rules Malaysia since 1957; that is why the Malays have no bad experience of pressure by different political powers. In Turkey, the political party “AKP” feeds itself from the hard trauma, left after the Kemalist government. There is a perception that “if Erdogan is defeated we will again get back to the old times”. Despite that, even in Malaysia Mr. Razak could be defeated only by Mahathir Mohamad, who is the former leader and founder of the same political party.
In Turkey, the former President Abdullah Gul from the political party AKP was going to be an opposition candidate against Mr. Erdogan. However, Mr. Erdogan made Mr. Gul’s candidature impossible. He sent a number of people to Mr. Gul; the names included Chief of Defense Hulusi Akar and some other – to threaten him. After that, Mr. Gul was forced to step back.
We can see that, though there are things in common between the two countries, the dynamics are different. It will be a surprise if Mr. Erdogan loses the election, but if one day the footage of minibuses from his house, full of money, will appear, it will not be a surprise.
- Ahmet Donmez is an author and one of the best Turkish investigative journalists in exile.