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Corruption evidence?

Senada Sokollu, Istanbul / ccFebruary 25, 2014

A recording is doing the rounds online of what appears to be the Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, urging his son to hide a large sum of money. The authenticity of the tape has not yet been confirmed.

Erdogan in Istanbul PK 03.01.2014
Image: Reuters

In the 12 hours after the recording appeared online, 1.2 million people listened in. Social networks were buzzing all night with people venting their displeasure. Comments on Twitter ranged from "So embarrassing" to "The political tension is reaching its peak!" and "Didn't Turkey want to join the EU?"

However, as some users highlighted, it is still unclear whether or not the tape is genuine.

The conversations were allegedly recorded on December 17 and 18, 2013. In them, it appears that Erdogan - if indeed it is he - is urging his son to stash away several million in dollars and euros.

December 17 was the day a corruption scandal broke in Turkey involving allegations of bribery, illegal gold trading with Iran, and illegal construction projects. High-ranking politicians and business leaders, as well as the sons of ministers, were arrested in connection with the case.

Bilal Erdogan, son of the Turkish premier
Erdogan's son Bilal has been implicated in the corruption scandalImage: picture-alliance/dpa

Opposition calls for resignations

The government swiftly issued an official press release: "The recordings purporting to be of conversations between Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his son are an immoral montage and entirely unrealistic," it said.

The Republican People's Party (CHP), Turkey's largest opposition party, called on the Erdogan-led government to resign. CHP spokesman Haluk Koc was quoted by the Turkish newspaper Hürriyet as saying that "it is unacceptable that someone caught up in this network of sordid connections should continue to govern Turkey. From this moment on, the government has completely lost all legitimacy."

And the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) agreed. Its chairman, Devlet Bahceli, commented that if this telephone conversation were real and nothing had been added, it called the prime minister's credibility, humanity and, worst of all, his morality into question.

Erdogan taking action against the 'parallel state'

Since the corruption scandal broke in mid-December, the government has been repeatedly criticized for drafting laws and enacting measures to hobble the Turkish judiciary. Erdogan has already dismissed numerous high-ranking judges, prosecutors and police; others have been transferred against their will. Critics have interpreted these developments as Erdogan's response to the police raids that uncovered the corruption scandal.

Islamic preacher Fethullah Gülen
US-based Islamic preacher Fethullah Gülen has considerable influence in TurkeyImage: picture-alliance/dpa

The Turkish premier has repeatedly asserted that a "parallel state," which he sees as being controlled by the US-based Islamic preacher Fethullah Gülen, is meddling in the country's affairs. Gülen, a former ally of Erdogan, has many followers in Turkey, and his movement is rumored to have gained influence in recent years among the ranks of the judiciary and the police. Erdogan's judicial reforms are therefore being interpreted by critics as an attempt to weaken the Gülen movement's power in that area.

The Turkish political scientist Can Paker, a former adviser to the opposition CHP, also wonders who is behind the supposed recording of Erdogan and his son - and whether it is in fact authentic. "Both Gülen's followers and Erdogan's have recordings of phone conversations involving figures from the other side. They hoard them like ammunition and release them to the public at a moment they believe is opportune," Paker told DW. He explained that it's all part of the power game, and that this is the reason why a lot of material appears online.

Türkei Korruptionsskandal Istanbul 29.12.13
The corruption scandal broke in December, bringing thousands of demonstrators back onto the streetsImage: Ozan Kose/AFP/Getty Images

'Erdogan will never step down'

The political scientist and columnist Cengiz Aktar also emphasized that there was, as yet, no confirmation that the recordings are genuine. "But if this tape is real, it's part of the investigation into the corruption scandal," he said. He explained that this tape is different from previous accusations and tapped conversations that have been made public. "This time the opposition is calling for the prime minister to resign. The whole thing has assumed a completely different dimension of crisis and chaos," Aktar told DW.

However, Aktar believes that there is still no chance Erdogan will step down. "In the Turkish political world there's no tradition of any such resignation. No one can force Erdogan to step down. He'll never budge."