By Gulsen Solaker
ANKARA (Reuters) - A Turkish court has banned media from reporting on a parliamentary investigation into corruption allegations against four ex-ministers, a move the opposition says amounts to protecting thieves.
Tayyip Erdogan, then prime minister and now president, has called the corruption scandal this year a plot to unseat him. Courts have since dropped cases, including those against the sons of three ministers and businessmen close to Erdogan.
A copy of Tuesday's ruling, seen by Reuters, said the ban was imposed to "prevent damage to the individual rights" of the former economy, interior, EU affairs and environment ministers.
A parliamentary commission was set up in May to study prosecutors' files alleging wrongdoing by the ministers, who denied the accusations. It met for the first time in July and is due to finish its work by Dec. 27.
The Turkish Journalists' Association called the ban censorship, and opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu accused parliament speaker Cemil Cicek of seeking it.
"Since when has parliament taken the role of protecting thieves," Kilicdaroglu told a party meeting in Istanbul.
Cicek later denied seeking the ban. The head of the parliamentary commission, dominated by members of the ruling AK Party, said he had called for it.
Some media, including the opposition newspaper Cumhuriyet, vowed to defy the order.
The scandal erupted in December when scores of people were detained by police investigating illegal building permits awarded in Istanbul and an alleged smuggling ring helping Iran exploit a loophole in the West's sanctions.
Erdogan called the investigation part of an attempted "judicial coup" by U.S.-based Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen, a former ally who wields influence in the police and judiciary. Gulen denied involvement.
Erdogan went on to win Turkey's first popular presidential election, in August.
The TUSIAD business group, often critical of government, said a survey released on Tuesday showed nearly half the business world expects corruption to increase.
Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu's chief adviser said late on Tuesday a majority of people believed corruption existed but the ruling AK Party had retained support, because voters also believed the government was the victim of a plot.
"To escape from the danger of a coup, people accepted putting up with corruption for some time more," Etyen Mahcupyan said in an interview with broadcaster CNN Turk. "There were two evils and they had to choose. They made a rational choice."
(Additional reporting by Ceyda Caglayan in Istanbul; Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by Nick Tattersall and Larry King)