Turkey’ s much-criticized autocracy has once more come under severe scrutiny with the latest definitive comments coming from a book written by a former US attorney.
In the book, titled Doing Justice – A Prosecutor’s Thoughts on Crime, Punishment and the Rule of Law, author and lawyer Preet Bharara does not hold punches against Ankara’s leadership under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
One of the quotes read: “Ever since Erdogan undid the case against his erstwhile ally in 2013, Turkey has descended into greater and greater autocracy. The press is muzzled. Freedoms are fewer.”
Bharara shared some of the excerpts in an interview with the CNBC. The famed prosecutor is known for his role in the Zarrab case, the court case against the violation of sanctions against Iran via an oil-gold trade scheme which involved high echelons of the Turkish government.
Reza Zarrab, a controversial Iranian gold-trader famous in Turkey for avoiding justice in a 2013 graft probe, was arrested in the US in 2016 on charges of violating that country’s sanctions. The case made Bharara a sensation in Turkey. His Twitter followers rose from 8,000 to 250,000.
He indicated that in his book there is the touching on the buried graft probe, still fresh in the memory of Turkey’s opposition.
In 2012, Turkish prosecutors launched a probe against Zarrab. He was subsequently arrested in December 2013.
“The allegations were Zarrab led a corrupt scheme that included fraud, gold smuggling, and bribery, at the highest levels of the Turkish government, to purchase Iranian gas with gold and to evade American sanctions in order to boost the country’s trade exports,” reads another quote from Bharara’s book explaining the background of the story.
“What happened to the charges in Turkey? Zarrab escaped them. He was not convicted. But he wasn’t acquitted either, because there was never any trial. Reza Zarrab had a get-out-of-jail-free card named Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the president of the country. The case against Zarrab implicated Erdogan’s own government, several of his cabinet members and their sons, and even Erdogan’s own son Bilal. Zarrab, the son of the environment minister, the son of the economy minister, and the son of the interior minister were part of the scores of people who were arrested and detained in December of that year.”
Bharara then moves on to narrate Erdogan’s dismissal of the case by portraying his administration as the victim of a conspiracy.
“First, he removed the prosecutors. He demoted and reassigned thousands of police officers. He reassigned judges. And he released Zarrab and the cabinet ministers’ sons from jail after seventy days behind bars. He blocked journalists from investigating government actions. He was incensed. Then he fired police officers, including the Istanbul police chief. He disbarred and arrested prosecutors. He ordered investigations into the prosecutors who were leading the corruption investigation. He investigated and arrested police officers, judges, journalists. He shut down media outlets. He appointed new prosecutors who closed the meddlesome cases for good,” the former US attorney writes explosively in the book – further saying the backlash from Erdogan was far from over.
“He introduced legislation that would consolidate more power over the judiciary with the justice minister, including the power to start (or stop) investigations of council members. And he expanded his own presidential power to propose members for the High Council of Judges and Prosecutors, which appoints and removes judges across the entire country.”
The celebrated lawyer further goes on to reveal Erdogan’s bid to meddle in the US judiciary. Erdogan brought up the case in a meeting with the Vice President of the US, Joe Biden, and asked Biden to fire Bharara and close the investigation. The same request also came from Turkey’s First Lady, Emine Erdogan during a conversation with Jill Biden, the then Vice President’s wife.
Bharara notes the delicacy of justice and the thin line between merely dismissing a case into your deeds with rhetoric and using actual powers to obstruct the justice. He then summarizes the decline of Turkey’s democracy after 2013 saying the obstructed case was a milestone.
“Erdogan’s paranoia and self-protection were amplified by the coup attempt, no doubt. But make no mistake that a milestone along his unfortunate path to autocracy was his decision to interfere personally in a duly launched criminal case.”
After the failed coup the Turkish government dismissed 33,417 police officers along with 4,463 judges and prosecutors.
In 2018, police officers who carried out the corruption investigations in 2013 were sentenced to life imprisonment by an Istanbul court.