Turk deputy PM says trust in courts key as graft probe continues

Reuters News
Posted: Jan 16, 2014 4:30 AM

ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Deputy Prime Minister Ali Babacan said trust in Turkey's legal system was essential to it attaining its long-term growth goals, as the government pressed ahead with plans to assert control over the judiciary.

Babacan, in charge of the economy and seen by investors as a market-friendly voice in the ruling AK Party, said Turkey's aim of reaching an average national income of $25,000 per person would be unreachable if investors, foreign and domestic, could not rely on the courts.

Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan's AK Party is currently pushing through parliament a draft law which will give the government tighter control over the appointment of judges and prosecutors, triggering European Union and investor concern about its commitment to EU membership criteria.

Erdogan's opponents see the proposals as an attempt to stifle a damaging corruption investigation which erupted a month ago with the detention of businessmen close to the government and three ministers' sons.

Erdogan portrays them as essential to root out the influence of a U.S.-based Turkish cleric, and former ally, he accuses of infiltrating the judiciary and police to influence policy behind the scenes.

"If we can't make an investor, whether domestic or international, take the view: 'I trust the Turkish legal system' ... a national income of $25,000 will remain just a dream," Babacan said late on Wednesday.

"Legal security is a prerequisite in a country. Clear, written rules, equality of opportunity, competition operating according to these rules. These are very important," he told a conference of Turkish ambassadors.

What erupted a month ago as a corruption inquiry involving the sons of three ministers and businessmen close to the government has grown into one of the biggest challenges of Erdogan's 11-year rule.

Details of the corruption allegations have not been made public, but are thought to relate to construction and real estate projects and Turkey's gold trade with Iran.

Erdogan's supporters see U.S.-based Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen - a former ally whose network of followers is influential in the police and judiciary - as a prime mover in a smear campaign backed by foreign collaborators.

AK supporters say the party's proposals to reform the judiciary will make it more, not less, independent by countering the influence of Gulenists within the legal system.

(Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by Nick Tattersall and Ralph Boulton)