With a defiant and embattled Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan increasing his control over the country’s judiciary, press and internet, evidence has emerged that a series of audio tapes implicating Erdogan and his son, Bilal, in hiding large quantities of cash are not a fake.
The tapes, leaked to the press last week, contined a montage of five telephone conversations made from Erdogan’s secure phone instructing his son to get rid of the money. The desperate conversations were recorded on December 17 as police launched raids on the houses and offices of top members of the Erdogan government, businessmen and their families.
A voice alleged to be Erdogan can be heard telling his son, “Whatever you have in the house, get rid of it, OK?” Later, the prime minister tells Bilal that Sumeyye, his sister, is on her way to help him. He instructs Bilal to alert other family members – including Sumeyye’s husband, another sibling and two uncles, to also get rid of their cash.
Later in the day in another conversation, Erdogan says, “It will be good if you completely ‘zero’ it.” In the fourth conversation recorded at 11:15 pm, Bilal says he had “zeroed” the money, except for a remaining 30 million euros (close to $39 million). Erdogan then asked Bilal why he didn’t get all the money to Mehmet Gur, a contractor building a villa for Erdogan, to which Bilal replies, “It takes a lot of space.”
According to U.S. cyber analyst Joshua Marpet as reported by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Roy Gutman in the Miami Herald, “If it’s fake, it’s of a sophistication that I haven’t seen,” he said. Marpet has testified in court concerning evidence in other Turkish criminal trials.
Marpet said that while it was true that five conversations were combined in one tape – hence, the montage effect – it did not appear that the voices themselves were doctored. Different sounds found in the tapes were most likely due to differences in the phones Erdogan and his son were using.
Surprising details emerged that Erdogan made the calls from his secure, government-issued encrypted telephone and that his voice was intercepted electronically by the Scientific and Technological Research Council, a governmental body called Tubitek. Erdogan has admitted in the past that his secure phone was tapped.
“A president cannot speak with a prime minister without being wiretapped in an instant,” Erdogan said, causing some to view his comments as an admission of guilt.
Opposition leader, Kemel K?l?çdaro?lu, replied, “These cryptographic telephones have not been given to you to cover up your corruption. They were given to you to conduct state affairs.”
In light of the revelations, the minister of science, industry and technology, Fikri Isik, said two department heads had been fire and that five workers responsible for the encrypted telephones had been suspended.
The moves follow mass firings by Erdogan of police heads and officers as well as public prosecutors in the wake of the on-going corruption scandal. The firing have been viewed as a means to stifle the on-going investigation as well as to prevent future investigations.
In addition, Erdogan has pushed through the Turkish parliament – where his Islamist AKP Party holds a majority – a series of laws that would allow his government to control the judiciary as well as internet usage.
Erdogan accused his formal ally and now rival Fetullah Gulen, a powerful Islamist imam who now resides in the U.S., of engineering the current scandal. Before the current firings of top members of the judiciary and police force, Gulen was considered to have had considerable influence in these branches of the government, garnering followers from an early age through his "Hizmet" network of independent preparatory schools. After going through the system, Hizmet graduates were admitted to top schools, which , in turn, qualified them for top government jobs.
Tubitek (the Scientific and Technological Research Council) is known to have a strong alliance with Gulen.
More conversations implicating Erdogan are expected to be leaked throughout the month leading up to crucial municipal elections scheduled to take place on March 31st.