Erdogan aide faces new accusations over judicial interference

People hold placards reading ‘Shame to thieves with boxes’ during a demonstration in Istanbul against corruption and the Government. (AFP/File)
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Updated 10 May 2020

Erdogan aide faces new accusations over judicial interference

  • Burhan Kuzu is accused of using influence on behalf of drug lord Zindashti

ISTANBUL: A senior adviser to the Turkish president has again been accused of judicial interference.

Burhan Kuzu is a founding member of Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), and a leading member of the board that advises President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on legal matters.
Orhan Ungan, who was imprisoned after the daughter of an Iranian drug lord and her driver were killed, said that Kuzu tried to keep him behind bars.  
His accusation follows the indictment of the presidential aide on charges of judicial interference in an attempt to secure the release of the Iranian drug lord, Naji Sharifi Zindashti, from custody. Zindashti and Ungan are rivals.
Kuzu is accused of trying to use undue influence on behalf of Zindashti, who was convicted in 2007 of possessing 75kg of heroin. Zindashti was released in August 2010, but detained again in April 2018 on suspicion of murder, instigating murder and membership of an outlawed organization.  
He is said to have called prosecutors and judges and told them that Zindashti’s release would be beneficial for Turkish-Iranian relations, and he was freed six months later. The prosecutor’s office opposed his release and issued an arrest warrant, but Zindashti had fled.
Kuzu initially denied ever meeting the Iranian, but was forced to admit that he had after the publication of a photograph of him with Zindashti in a restaurant. He said the Iranian had presented himself as a businessman seeking Turkish citizenship.
Ozgur Ozel, an outspoken parliamentarian from the main opposition CHP, has long criticized Kuzu for interfering in the judicial process while holding key government positions.
“How does such a person have a seat in the legal issues board?” Ozel said in a parliamentary speech earlier this year. “Journalists are behind bars, but he is there. He was caught red-handed in the Zindashti case.”
Prosecutors are seeking a five-year prison sentence for Kuzu.

FASTFACT

The new investigation is a sign of deteriorating relations between Iran and Turkey. The relations have also soured over their disagreements regarding Syria’s rebel-held Idlib province, where they support opposing camps. Tehran is against the presence of Turkish soldiers in Syria and wants to keep President Bashar Assad in office.

The new investigation is a sign of deteriorating relations between Iran and Turkey.
The killing of Iranian dissident Masoud Molavi Vardanjani, who was shot dead in the middle of a busy street in Istanbul last November, was harshly criticized by the US, who claimed that the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security was directly involved in the assassination.  
Vardanjani, who was a former defense official in Iran before fleeing to Turkey, was leading a campaign to “root out the corrupt mafia commanders” with his term.
 Turkey’s relations with Iran have also soured over their disagreements regarding Syria’s rebel-held Idlib province, where they support opposing camps.  
Tehran is against the presence of Turkish soldiers in Syria and wants to keep President Bashar Assad in office. Turkey, on the other hand, supports the rebels and conducts military offensives in the region to support its regional claims.


Turkey’s new coronavirus figures confirm experts’ worst fears

Updated 10 min 9 sec ago

Turkey’s new coronavirus figures confirm experts’ worst fears

  • Turkish Medical Association has been warning for months that the government’s previous figures were concealing the graveness of the spread

ANKARA, Turkey: When Turkey changed the way it reports daily COVID-19 infections, it confirmed what medical groups and opposition parties have long suspected – that the country is faced with an alarming surge of cases that is fast exhausting the Turkish health system.
In an about-face, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government this week resumed reporting all positive coronavirus tests – not just the number of patients being treated for symptoms – pushing the number of daily cases to above 30,000. With the new data, the country jumped from being one of the least-affected countries in Europe to one of the worst-hit.
That came as no surprise to the Turkish Medical Association, which has been warning for months that the government’s previous figures were concealing the graveness of the spread and that the lack of transparency was contributing to the surge. The group maintains, however, that the ministry’s figures are still low compared with its estimate of at least 50,000 new infections per day.
No country can report exact numbers on the spread of the disease since many asymptomatic cases go undetected, but the previous way of counting made Turkey look relatively well-off in international comparisons, with daily new cases far below those reported in European countries including Italy, Britain and France.
That changed Wednesday as Turkey’s daily caseload almost quadrupled from about 7,400 to 28,300.
The country’s hospitals are overstretched, medical staff are burned out and contract tracers, who were once credited for keeping the outbreak under check, are struggling to track transmissions, Sebnem Korur Fincanci, who heads the association, told The Associated Press.
“It’s the perfect storm,” said Fincanci, whose group has come under attack from Erdogan and his nationalist allies for questioning the government’s figures and its response to the outbreak.
Even though the health minister has put the ICU bed occupancy rate at 70 percent, Ebru Kiraner, who heads the Istanbul-based Intensive Care Nurses’ Association, says intensive care unit beds in Istanbul’s hospitals are almost full, with doctors scrambling to find room for critically ill patients.
There is a shortage of nurses and the existing nursing staff is exhausted, she added.
“ICU nurses have not been able to return to their normal lives since March,” she told the AP. “Their children have not seen their mask-less faces in months.”
Erdogan said, however, there was “no problem” concerning the hospitals’ capacities. He blamed the surge on the public’s failure to wear masks, which is mandatory, and to abide by social distancing rules.
Demonstrating the seriousness of the outbreak, Turkey last month suspended leave for health care workers and temporarily banned resignations and early retirements during the pandemic. Similar bans were also put in place for three months in March.
The official daily COVID-19 deaths have also steadily risen to record numbers, reaching 13,373 on Saturday with 182 new deaths, in a reversal of fortune for the country that had been praised for managing to keep fatalities low. But those record numbers remain disputed too.
Istanbul Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu said 186 people had died of infectious diseases in the city on Nov. 22 – a day on which the government announced just 139 COVID-19 deaths for the whole of the country. The mayor also said around 450 burials are taking place daily in the city of 15 million compared with the average 180-200 recorded in November the previous year.
“We can only beat the outbreak through a process that is transparent,” said Imamoglu, who is from Turkey’s main opposition party. “Russia and Germany have announced a high death toll. Did Germany lose its shine? Did Russia collapse?”
Health Minister Fahrettin Koca has rejected Imamoglu’s claims, saying: “I want to underline that all of the figures I am providing are accurate.”
Last week, Erdogan announced a series of restrictions in a bid to contain the contagion without impacting the already weakened economy or business activity. Opposition parties denounced them as “half-baked.” He introduced curfews for the first time since June, but limited them to weekend evenings, closed down restaurants and cafes except for takeout services and restricted the opening hours of malls, shops and hairdressers.
Both Fincanci and Kiraner said the measures don’t go far enough to contain transmissions.
“We need a total lockdown of at least two weeks, if not four weeks which science considers to be the most ideal amount,” Fincanci said.
Koca has said that the number of seriously ill patients and fatalities is on the rise and said some cities including Istanbul and Izmir are experiencing their “third peak.”
Turkey would wait, however, for two weeks to see the results of the weekend curfews and other restrictions before considering stricter lockdowns, he said.