The Turkish government is shaken by allegations by a gangster


S.EDAT PEKER, the man who has been at the center of one of Turkey’s biggest political scandals for many years, is making an unlikely YouTube celebrity. He’s blurring his words, possibly due to too many botox injections, wearing an unbuttoned shirt, and sitting behind a desk adorned with prayer beads, pages of notes, and an empty lantern. Last month, Mr Peker, a convicted gangster, taped millions of Turks on their screens while settling points with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan‘s government.

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His allegations, which are not proven, are explosive. In a series of videos, Mr Peker has accused the son of Mr Erdogan’s former prime minister of drug trafficking and a ruling party MP involvement in the death of a young woman. He claims to have beaten another politician for insulting the president and advocates attacking the offices of one of the country’s largest newspapers. He also claims that the country’s interior minister, Suleyman Soylu, offered him police protection.

The seven videos have been viewed at least 55 million times. Others seem to be on the way. Opposition politicians and even some members of the ruling judiciary and development (AK) Party asked for a request. What the allegations show, said Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the leader of the main opposition party, is that the mafia has become the government’s coalition partner. “If even a thousandth of these claims are true, it is a disaster,” said Cemil Cicek, a AK Heavyweight.

Meanwhile, Mr Soylu denies the allegations. He has turned down calls for his resignation, demanded that Mr. Peker be charged with defamation, and dared him to return home. He also called the allegations part of an “international operation” and accused America and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to try to overthrow the Turkish government. It is believed that Mr. Peker, who fled Turkey two years ago, lives in Turkey UAE.

Mr Soylu did not help his cause. Late on May 24th, a crowd of supporters swarmed around the minister in front of a television station, breaking the curfew that Mr Soylu personally signed. He thanked them warmly.

The scandal has revived memories of the 1990s when the state regularly partnered with criminal groups to pursue opponents, from journalists to Kurdish leaders. Scores were killed. Some of the unsavory characters of that era have now resurfaced, thanks in part to an amnesty last year.

Until recently, Mr. Peker had been in good hands with the government. The gangster, who has served time for leading a crime syndicate, extortion and kidnapping, met Mr. Erdogan at least once, organized rallies in his support and was named Turkey‘s “most benevolent businessman”. When a group of academics wrote a letter criticizing a government offensive against Kurdish insurgents, Mr. Peker swore to “shower in their blood”. He fell from grace when Mr Erdogan’s son-in-law turned against him.

The videos are also embarrassing for the Turkish media and judiciary, which no longer dare to deal with high-level corruption or investigate top officials, let alone members of Mr Erdogan’s family. A reporter for the Turkish state news agency, who asked a minister a specific question about Mr. Peker’s allegations, lost his job the next day. The biggest corruption scandal in the Erdogan era was largely the work of bureaucrats loyal to a religious sect digging up evidence of bribery and money laundering by ministers. Today the task of holding those in power to account seems to have fallen to a mafioso. â– 

This article appeared in the Europe section of the print edition under the heading “The Untouchables”.


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