Corruption in High Places

Turkey’s political, business and banking establishments are currently being shaken by accusations and investigations of high-level bribery and corruption. Senior police officers are being removed from their jobs; cabinet ministers whose sons were allegedly involved in the scandal are resigning; well-known construction magnates are being arrested and held in custody; stars of the music industry are tearfully protesting the innocence of their accused husbands; the coalition of Islamic interests that brought the ruling AK Party to power in 2002 seems to be falling apart . . . Where will it all end?
Such is the public indignation that an unlikely new hero seems to have emerged. For ten years, the bogeyman of secular Kemalist Turks has been a reclusive Islamic scholar, Fethullah Gülen. The shadowy Hizmet movement of which he is the putative leader was said to have extended its tentacles into every sector of Turkish society, state and private. Mere mention of his name was sufficient to evoke visions of the collapse of the secular Republic founded by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, and a return to the bad old days of shariah religious law and government by the mullahs. This was believed by many to be all along the ‘hidden agenda’ of Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan and his Justice and Development Party government.
Now it seems that Fethullah Hodja has become a major source of hope for the salvation of the republic. Those same tentacles that extended their reach into positions of influence in the police force and law courts are now, it is said, seeking to strangle the politicians who empowered them. The name that was formerly anathema to Kemalist republicans is suddenly being uttered as the potential nemesis of Mr Erdoğan’s government.
How corrupt is your lot?
These are difficult days for Turkey, coming not long after the ‘pro-democracy’ disturbances of last summer – and with the influx of more than a million refugees in flight from the mayhem of Syria’s civil war. After ten years of AK Party government, conditions are ripe, one might think, for an opposition political party to step into the breach and offer a credible alternative to an electorate desperate for new directions.
Sad to say, the two major opposition parties represented in Turkey’s parliament seem totally incapable of offering such an alternative. With the reins of power being virtually handed to them on a plate, the leaders of the CHP and MHP parties are not seen, even by many of their own supporters, as having what it takes to lead the country. In the absence of effective organised opposition, and in spite of the voices raised against it, the AK Party may yet find itself ruling the country for another term.
Well I’m not here to defend politicians, financial wheelers-and-dealers and unscrupulous property magnates. I echo the words of the President of the Republic, Abdullah Gül, who expressed his wish for justice to take its course and wrong-doers to be punished. Only recently the nephewof a former President was convicted of serious white-collar crimes – and that is as it should be. High social standing, far from conferring immunity from prosecution, should rather require higher standards of moral rectitude.
Sad to say, this is not always the case, and not only in Turkey. I’ve written elsewhere of Edward Snowden, Bradley Manning, Wikileaks and the questionable transparency of business and government in the United States. I’ve mentioned, in passing, the dubious career of Britain’s Tony Blah and his be-knighted big brother. Even my own country New Zealand, far from the main arteries of international affairs, is by no means squeaky-clean.
High profile politician John Banks was recently obliged to resign his ministerial responsibilities in the face of a court case charging him with accepting large campaign donations and making fraudulent statements regarding his knowledge of who they were from. Apparently the anonymous donors were a certain Kim Dotcom, resident in New Zealand but wanted by the US government on charges relating to his Internet business Megaupload; and Skycity, the outfit that runs the county’s largest casino.
Interestingly, there seems to be a Skycity connection to the current Mayor of Auckland, Len Brown, who is also embroiled in a controversy over his fitness to manage New Zealand’s most populous city. Most of the debate seems to be centring on a two-year extra-marital affair the mayor engaged in with an fascinating lady by the name of Bevan Chuang. Admittedly the details have some titillation value in a country short on big local news – but they do seem to be attracting attention away from the question of Mr Brown’s perks, which apparently included the free or cheap use of VIP suites in some of the city’s top hotels, among them Skycity.
Legislation has been recently passed by New Zealand’s right wing National government allowing the Skycity casino to expand its gambling activities under the guise of a law innocuously labelled the International Convention Centre Act. Passage of the legislation was accompanied by considerable public debate over the desirability of large-scale state-sanctioned gambling amid accusations of money-laundering and negative social impact, including documented cases of extreme child neglect.
As I noted above, New Zealand is a small nation far from the fast lanes of world affairs, and these activities would be scarcely worth a mention if it weren’t for another news item I came across the other day. Apparently the OECD people have released a reportassessing how its 30 member nations have been working to help curb to nearly $1 trillion of illicit cash that’s being smuggled out of developing countries each year.’ The article expressed some surprise that, according to the report, New Zealand rated highest of the thirty OECD countries for non-compliance with forty-nine different recommendations for fighting illegal flows of money. This, the writer pointed out, is somewhat in conflict with the country’s 1st equal ranking (with Denmark) on Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index. Turkey, incidentally, ranked 53rd.
Well, it’s a dodgy world we live in, that’s for sure. The Turkish phrase Yalan Dünya suggests that you can’t rely on much in life apart from the certainty of death. Even taxes seem to strike with a measure of inequity. The bright spot in this web of lies, deceit and self-seeking corruption is that these people do sometimes get caught. One measure of a healthy democracy must surely be the existence of systems and processes for calling wrong-doers to account, regardless of who their father is, or how much money they donated to the President’s re-election campaign fund. It is not many years ago in Turkey that these kinds of people were conducting their dirty activities with impunity. Ordinary citizens tended to shrug and say, ‘This is Turkey’. I have hopes that the new Turkey is moving towards a higher placing on that TI index.

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