Monday, January 13, 2014

Turkey corruption probe updates January 13 - 14 , 2014 .... AK Party gov't haggles over ways to solve HSYK bill row ....... Judicial Bill remains mired in controversy and rowdy debate and scuffles during a Commission Meeting...... Main opposition leader meets President Gül, requests withdrawal of judicial bill ..... Graft prosecutor Zekeriya Öz rejects relocation, takes annual leave ...... Brussels asks Turkey to be consulted to ensure judicial bill in line with EU legislation ...... Graft accusations aim to thwart Istanbul’s third airport and bridge plans: AKP spokesman









 
 

'Gov't must await Constitutional Court approval to implement HSYK law'

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Turkish lawmakers are seen at a parliamentary session. (Photo: Today's Zaman)
14 January 2014 /İSTANBUL, TODAY'S ZAMAN
The government must avoid hasty changes to the workings of the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK) and the implementation of proposed legislation to this effect, if it is passed in Parliament, unless the Constitutional Court verifies its compatibility with the constitution, Venice Commission President Gianni Buquicchio said on Tuesday.
In a written statement Buquicchio said the proposed amendments to judicial legislation, in particular the HSYK, are causing concern about the independence and neutrality of the judiciary.
The Venice Commission is an advisory body of the Council of Europe (CoE), of which Turkey is a founding member, and is composed of experts in the field of constitutional law. Buquicchio said the Venice Commission is aware of serious concerns raised about the compatibility of the amendments with international standards and the constitution. Reiterating that the Venice Commission had welcomed the legislation currently in effect, which was introduced by a referendum in 2010, for its compatibility with international standards, Buquicchio said, “I can only strongly warn against taking hasty decisions.”
He stressed the significance of an independent judiciary, asserting that the judiciary should under no circumstances be under executive control. Buquicchio said the Turkish government must avoid legislating in this area or implementing such a law before thoroughly examining and confirming its compatibility with international standards and the constitution. He said the Venice Commission “is ready, if asked, to examine the draft law, if appropriate, in co-operation with other Council of Europe bodies.”
Some constitutional amendments, passed in a referendum by 58 percent in 2010, introduced more democratic procedures on electing members to the HSYK, and these amendments were widely celebrated by the European Union due to their conformity with international democratic standards. The new bill would reverse these changes, granting the Minister of Justice the power to appoint all HSYK members and thus control the selection of judges as well as judicial inspectors, a move that was perceived as a government attempt to evade ongoing corruption probes.

European judges to lobby against HSYK law

The European Association of Judges for Democracy and Freedom (MEDEL), which represents judges' associations from 22 European countries, also cried foul on the government's move to change the HSYK's structure and functioning. In a written statement on Monday, MEDEL President António Cluny said the HSYK is the guardian of the supremacy of law and judicial independence and that the government-drafted bill may permit direct government interference on the careers of judges and prosecutors, as well as on the internal affairs of the judiciary. “MEDEL strongly protests against the aim of the Turkish Government to gain control over the judiciary and will report to all the European institutions the dangerous consequences of that proposal reform,” he said.
“This reform proposal infringes a number of minimum standards on the independence of judicial power accepted by various European institutions, namely the Council of Europe and the European Union,” he said.
Cluny called on all institutions in the EU and the world that defend human rights to take a stance against the Turkish government's steps to subjugate the judiciary, saying they should approach the Turkish authorities immediately to deter them from going further, since such a law would constitute an attack on democracy.
“Finally, MEDEL appeals to the Turkish Parliament to reject that reform to make sure that Turkey stays to be a member of the community of countries where democracy, the rule of law and human rights are respected,” he said.

Freedom House: Reform bill to undermine democracy

Freedom House, an independent watchdog organization working for the promotion of freedom around the world, also lambasted the government's proposed changes to the HSYK law, which it described as an attempt to restrict the ongoing corruption investigations, adding that this conflict may damage democracy in the country.
“Parliament should reject the 'judicial reform' legislation as an attempt to undermine judicial independence,” said David J. Kramer, president of Freedom House. “If the bill is passed, President Abdullah Gül should use his veto to prevent it from becoming law. Enacting this measure would be a dangerous step away from the separation of powers and another clear sign that the government's commitment to democracy has faded," he said.





AK Party gov't haggles over ways to solve HSYK bill row

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A brawl broke out in justice parliamentary commission on Friday over discussions on the government bill to restructure the Supreme Council of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK). (Photo: DHA)
14 January 2014 /ANKARA, TODAY'S ZAMAN
In an attempt to resolve a deepening political crisis that erupted with the government's plans to change the structure and operation of the country's top judicial body, the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) has proposed that the opposition parties draft a constitutional amendment to address the issue.
The opposition parties are divided, however, with two of them expressing support for a constitutional change -- albeit conditionally -- while the other swiftly turned down the proposal.
On Tuesday, Justice Minister Bekir Bozdağ and AK Party parliamentary group deputy chairman Nurettin Canikli paid visits to the opposition party offices in Parliament in search of a compromise over a much-debated bill to restructure the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK).
During the meetings, the AK Party asked the opposition parties to work on a constitutional amendment that would overhaul the board.
The government representatives paid the first visit to the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP). They were received by CHP parliamentary deputy chairmen Akif Hamzaçebi, Engin Altay and Muharrem İnce. The meeting was closed to the press. They later visited with Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) and Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) leadership.
The opposition has been harshly critical of the government's plan to reform the HSYK -- the structure of which was amended through government-backed constitutional referendum in 2010 -- seen as an attempt to override the separation of powers and hence result in a regress in democratic standards.
Bozdağ, speaking to the media after the meeting, said the AK Party is ready to work on a constitutional amendment that would revise the HSYK. “The CHP members said they will convey our message to their party officials and respond to our proposal after deliberating on the issue,” the minister stated and added that the governing party will decide whether to suspend the HSYK bill depending on a response to come from the opposition parties.
If the political parties in Parliament agree on a constitutional change, a parliamentary commission will be established to work on the change, according to Bozdağ.
Last week, the AK Party issued a proposal to restructure the HSYK which was slammed by critics on the grounds that the bill would give the government a tighter grip on the judiciary. The HSYK is the body responsible for appointments within the judiciary and has 27 members. The bill is currently being debated by the parliamentary Justice Commission. If the commission accepts the proposal, it will be sent to Parliament's General Assembly for discussion and a vote.
The legislation allows the undersecretary of the justice minister to be elected as chairman of the HSYK. The bill also mandates that the board will no longer have the authority to pass decrees and circulars. Instead, the justice minister will be authorized to pass decrees and circulars on behalf of the HSYK. Furthermore, the board will be stripped of its authority to decide to launch investigations of HSYK members. This authority is also given to the justice minister.
The bill has drawn the ire of legal experts and jurists amid mounting concerns over the gradual disappearance of the separation of judicial and executive powers and the ruling AK Party's firm position seeking to make the judiciary subservient to the government.

PM: AK Party to freeze bill if parties agree on constitutional change

During his party's parliamentary group speech on Tuesday, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said his government will “freeze” the HSYK bill if the opposition parties support a constitutional amendment on the board. “If the opposition agrees to make a constitutional amendment, we will freeze the bill. We will not submit it to the General Assembly, if necessary,” he said. In such a case, he continued, all the parties in Parliament will be represented on the HSYK the same way they are represented at the Radio and Television Supreme Council [RTÜK].
The CHP's Hamzaçebi said the CHP will discuss the AK Party's constitutional amendment proposal in its next Central Executive Board (MYK) meeting, but his party has two preconditions. “The AK Party must withdraw the HSYK bill and stay away from meddling in the corruption investigations in order to persuade the main opposition party to work on an amendment on the Constitution,” said Hamzaçebi.
The planned changes to the HSYK have come amid a heated debate over the future of a corruption and bribery investigation that involves some AK Party government members. The sons of two former ministers are among 24 high-profile names, including a number of bureaucrats and businesspeople, who were arrested in mid-December on corruption and bribery charges as part of the ongoing investigation.
Since the launch of the investigation, the government has faced fierce criticism for its interference in judicial authority and impeding the investigation.
The MHP was, however, swift to turn down the AK Party's proposal. The party's deputy chairman, Oktay Vural, said the MHP will not support any proposal that would result in the restructuring of the HSYK. He said the MHP considers the government's plans to make a change to the board an attempt to intervene in the judiciary. “We do not find plans for a HSYK restructuring or a constitutional amendment right at a time when a corruption investigation is ongoing,” he stated.
In addition, MHP Chairman Devlet Bahçeli expressed harsh criticism of the government's plans to restructure the HSYK. Speaking at his party's parliamentary group meeting, Bahçeli said the AK Party has pressed the button to place the judiciary under the control of the executive. He complained that the government is moving away from a number of changes it made to the structure of the HSYK following the Sept. 12, 2010 referendum that sought to bring the Turkish judiciary in line with EU standards.
“The prime minister is retreating from what he said prior to the 2010 referendum. All the remarks he made [prior to the referendum] turned out to be lies. The prime minister has deceived everyone who voted ‘yes' in the referendum,” Bahçeli stated.
BDP Chairman Selahattin Demirtaş said his party would agree to make a constitutional amendment regarding the HSYK's structure provided that the amendment will contribute to the independence of judges and prosecutors and impartiality of the judiciary.
Also on Tuesday, the parliamentary Justice Commission continued with its discussions over the HSYK bill. Thanks to its ruling majority on the commission, the AK Party has so far had 20 articles of the bill adopted. The bill includes 52 articles in total. The discussions were ongoing when Today's Zaman went to print.
Tuesday's meeting between the AK Party representatives and the opposition parties followed earlier meetings between President Abdullah Gül and the opposition leaders. The president received the leaders separately on Monday and discussed details of the HSYK bill with them.

















Main opposition leader meets President Gül, requests withdrawal of judicial bill

ANKARA

Many figures last week urged President Abdullah Gül to play the intermediary for solving the ongoing crisis. DHA photo
Many figures last week urged President Abdullah Gül to play the intermediary for solving the ongoing crisis. DHA photo
Main opposition leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu held a meeting with President Abdullah Gül Jan. 13 in Ankara, voicing the Republican People Party’s (CHP) position over a controversial bill giving the government more control over the judiciary.

“The bill throws 90 years of democratic gains in the garbage,” Kılıçdaroğlu told reporters referring to the government proposal that will reshape the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK), asking for its withdrawal as a main condition for agreeing to the ruling Justice and Development Party’s proposal for a Constitutional amendment on the judiciary. 

The meeting took place following Gül’s inviting the leaders of opposition parties in Parliament for separate meetings at the presidential palace in Ankara, amid an ongoing political crisis, which erupted following a graft probe implicating ex-ministers and prominent businessmen.

It also came following chaotic parliamentary sessions on the controversial judicial bill over the weekend, marred by quarrels that exploded into fistfights.

Kılıçdaroğlu suggested the CHP might support a Constitutional amendment enhancing the judiciary’s independence, but expressed second pre-conditions along with the withdrawal of the controversial bill. 

“The government should not obstruct the corruption probe,” Kılıçdaroğlu said after the meeting, which lasted around 45 minutes. 

Gül will be receiving Bahçeli at 3:00 p.m. and Demirtaş at 6:00 p.m local time. 

The meeting also came as a number of political figures, including former CHP leader Deniz Baykal, urged Gül to intermediate in the current legislative battle, which comes after a massive graft scandal embroiling the government, by using his leverage on the AKP. The bill has created concerns vis-à-vis the independence of the judiciary and the level of government control over the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors, a key institution that forms the basis of Turkey’s judicial system.

Earlier Jan. 13, Kılıçdaroğlu said during a meeting with lawyers that his CHP would apply to the Constitutional Court to annul the current bill if it is approved by Gül after the parliamentary vote. 
January/13/2014

Graft prosecutor Zekeriya Öz rejects relocation, takes annual leave

ISTANBUL

Zekeriya Öz was removed from his post of Istanbul deputy chief prosecutor after he opened a graft investigation. AA Photo
Zekeriya Öz was removed from his post of Istanbul deputy chief prosecutor after he opened a graft investigation. AA Photo
Prosecutor Zekeriya Öz, who recently claimed that he was threatened by the prime minister to drop his investigation into official corruption, rejected his relocation to a minor post on Jan. 13.

Öz was removed from his post of Istanbul deputy chief prosecutor after he opened a graft investigation that included the sons of three former Cabinet members.

Last week, he claimed that he was “threatened” to stop the investigation by two members of the high judiciary sent by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Erdoğan rejected the accusations as slander while the two judges, identified in Internet reports as Chief Ombudsman Nihat Ömeroğlu and senior justice İsmail Rüştü Cirit, also dismissed the claims. 

Öz was then reassigned by the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK) as the deputy chief public prosecutor of Istanbul’s Bakırköy district.

He has reportedly taken his annual leave and will not start in his new position until after his formal objection is reviewed.
January/13/2014




Brussels asks Turkey to be consulted to ensure judicial bill in line with EU legislation

BRUSSELS

EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Füle said via Twitter that he 'asked [Turkish] authorities to consult relevant amendments to laws before adoption to make sure they’re in line with principles of EU legislation.' DAILY NEWS photo
EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Füle said via Twitter that he 'asked [Turkish] authorities to consult relevant amendments to laws before adoption to make sure they’re in line with principles of EU legislation.' DAILY NEWS photo
The European Union has made a formal request to Ankara asking to be consulted on the controversial judicial bill on the Parliament’s agenda for ensuring that it is in line with EU legislation.

EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Füle said via Twitter that he “asked [Turkish] authorities to consult relevant amendments to laws before adoption to make sure they’re in line with principles of EU legislation.”

The EU had voiced last week strong concerns over the government response to recent graft probes that involve high-profile names and relatives of ruling party members through massive purges in the police and a bill increasing its control on the judiciary.

As a response, Turkey’s freshly-appointed EU minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, who took over from an Egemen Bağış embroiled to the massive probe, urged calm further calling on Brussels to refrain from “unilateral and impatient statements via media.”

The judicial bill is expected to overturn the reform of the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK) in line with Turkey’s harmonization with the EU acquis. The body is at the center of the battle over control of the judiciary as its acting head has already condemned the bill as “unconstitutional.”

Füle’s statement was made both in English and Turkish.
January/13/2014



Graft accusations aim to thwart Istanbul’s third airport and bridge plans: AKP spokesman

ISTANBUL

AKP's Hüseyin Çelik has hinted a plot behind the graft probes targeting Istanbul's future airport and bridge. AA photo
AKP's Hüseyin Çelik has hinted a plot behind the graft probes targeting Istanbul's future airport and bridge. AA photo
The massive graft probes and allegations implicating ex-ministers aim to obstruct the construction of Istanbul’s third airport and bridge, ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) deputy head and spokesperson Hüseyin Çelik said.

“If you look at who has been implicated or targeted with asset injunctions, [you see] that it’s the team who will build [Istanbul’s] third airport and third bridge without any exception,” Çelik said during a live broadcast Jan. 12.

Çelik said that the construction works, both among the AKP’s self-proclaimed “crazy projects,” had disturbed many people outside Turkey, particularly in Europe.

“I am not someone who gives a lot of credit to conspiracy theories. But we have to sit and think if the Frankfurt airport will [lose favor] when Istanbul’s third airport will be completed,” Çelik said.

According to Turkish media reports, prominent Turkish businessmen were among an arrest list of a second corruption probe, including the chairmen of the companies included in the consortium which won the contract to build Istanbul’s third airport.
The execution of the arrests was aborted after the police did not carry out the orders and the prosecutor overseeing the probe was removed from the case.

Çelik emphasized that those businessmen’s investments would ultimately serve the public funds. He also joined the partisans of the “timing and meaningless” argument denouncing that the accusations erupted a few months before local polls.

“Some want to label the AKP government as [corrupt] through creating a perception right before the election,” he said.

The graft probe escalated into a political crisis with the government’s move to increase its control over the judiciary, stirring outcry among the opposition ranks.

The parliamentary debates held over the week-end were marred by quarrels, which boiled over with AKP deputy Zeyid Aslan’s flying kick in a justice commission session.

Çelik also criticized the head of the Judges and Prosecutors Union (YARSAV), Ömer Faruk Eminağaoğlu, who had been attending the session but found himself on the receiving end of Aslan’s kung-fu heroics.

The bill has created concerns vis-à-vis the independence of the judiciary and the level of government control over the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors, a key institution that forms the basis of Turkey’s judicial system.




Debate on controversial bill to restrict judicial body deepens

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A fight erupted in Parliament during discussions in a parliamentary commission meeting on Saturday. (Photo: DHA)
12 January 2014 /TODAYSZAMAN.COM, İSTANBUL
The parliamentary debate on a controversial government-endorsed bill that would significantly restrict the powers of Turkey's top judicial council continued over the weekend with scuffles between deputies from the ruling and opposition parties during key commission meetings.
On the third day of deliberations in the Justice Commission on Sunday, tensions escalated as deputies continued to fight over a bill that many see as a government attempt to control the judiciary through extraordinary powers. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan defended the bill, saying everything is happening by the book and that what matters in the Commission is the vote at the end of the day. “In democracies, everything boils down to the vote,” he underlined, signaling that he will push ahead with his ruling majority in the commissions and in Parliament.
The prime minister also accused the judiciary of being unaccountable to the people's will and preventing businesspeople from doing their jobs.
Erdoğan criticized a judge who was kicked by a lawmaker from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) during a parliamentary commission debate on Saturday, accusing him of attempting to make a statement beyond the bounds of his authority.
The prime minister also told reporters, while inspecting a mosque under construction on Çamlıca Hill on the Anatolian side of İstanbul, that brawls among deputies cause greater tension during these sessions. He added that it is wrong for individuals to enter the Justice Commission and make statements without the proper authority, referring to Ömer Faruk Eminağaoğlu, chairman of the Judges and Prosecutors Association (YARSAV) and a judge in Çankırı province.
“First of all, you have no authority to speak there. Who are you? Know your limits. The place where you need to talk is a different place,” he said, adding that Eminağaoğlu and people of his kind are “militants,” not men of law.
The main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) filed a complaint with the Parliamentary Speaker's Office, stating that the AK Party's Zeyid Aslan must be punished for kicking Eminağaoğlu during the commission meeting. The complaint, signed by CHP parliamentary deputy chairman Engin Altay, included a statement that Aslan's attack on Eminağaoğlu had tarnished the reputation of Parliament.
The CHP claimed that physical attacks during these debates have prevented the commission from doing its work. As the debate was in progress, punches were thrown and water bottles, folders and even an iPad flew through the air on Saturday.
Eminağaoğlu attempted to speak again on Sunday but was met with protests from some deputies of the ruling party. He was then escorted out of the meeting after the chairman would not allow him to speak.
It is not unusual for Commission members to hear the views of non-deputies, including members of government agencies, civil society representatives or unions. The fact that no members of the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK), which would be directly affected by the bill, were invited to the Commission was also criticized by opposition parties.
The Commission was chaired by AK Party deputy Ahmet İyimaya, while Justice Minister Bekir Bozdağ was also present during the deliberations.
Oktay Vural, a Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) deputy, said the opposition has no power other than words, noting that the Commission's chairman must guarantee an environment in which Commission members can voice their opinions freely.

Top judicial body opposed to change

So far, 15 members of the HSYK have voiced their strong objection to the governing party's proposal to restructure the board, saying the plan violates the Constitution. They argue that the proposal contradicts the constitutional principle of the independence and impartiality of the judiciary and seeks to subordinate the board to the justice minister.
Earlier this week, the AK Party's proposal to restructure the HSYK was slammed by critics on the grounds that the bill would give the government a tighter grip on the judiciary.
Erdoğan claimed on Sunday that the bill is not a violation of the Constitution, adding that the opposition will have an opportunity to ask the Constitutional Court to reverse the decision after it is adopted by Parliament.
The opposition, however, is worried that once the bill is approved and signed into law by the president, the government may drastically restructure the judiciary while the Supreme Court revises the constitutionality of the law.
The legislation would allows the undersecretary of the justice minister to be elected chairman of the HSYK. The bill also rules that the board will no longer have the authority to pass decrees and regulations. Instead, the justice minister will be entitled to pass these on behalf of the HSYK. Furthermore, the board will be stripped of the authority to launch investigations into HSYK members. This authority will also be handed over to the justice minister.
The bill has drawn the ire of legal experts and jurists, as there is mounting concern over the gradual disappearance of the separation of judicial and executive powers and the ruling AK Party's desire to make the judiciary subservient to the government.
HSYK Deputy Chairman Ahmet Hamsici issued a 66-page statement on Friday in which he said the proposal seeks to destroy the independence of the board as well as the separation of powers in the country. According to the statement, if adopted, the bill will place the HSYK under the control of the justice minister.
The 15 HSYK members also complained that the AK Party proposal ignores the principle of the rule of law as well as the independence of the courts and the authority of judges.
Hamsici also underlined in his statement that most of the articles included in the bill violate international law, including the criteria set by the Venice Commission, the Council of Europe's (CoE) advisory board that seeks to uphold the constitutional principles of democracy, human rights and the rule of law, as well as some previous rulings of the Consultative Council of European Judges (CCJE) and a decision of the Committee of Ministers of the CoE on the independence of judges.
CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu said, “Every judicial expert knows that the AK Party's HSYK proposal violates the Constitution.”
The planned changes to the HSYK have emerged during a heated debate over the future of a corruption and bribery investigation that has implicated certain AK Party ministers. The sons of two former ministers are among 24 high-profile names, including some bureaucrats and businesspeople, who were arrested in mid-December 2013 on corruption and bribery charges as part of the investigation.
Since the launch of the investigation, the government has faced persistent accusations of interfering with the judicial authorities in order impede the investigation.
The head of the Justice Academy and a member of the Supreme Court of Appeals, Hüseyin Yıldırım, also criticized the HSYK proposal, arguing that the new law will end the duties of the chairman, deputy chairmen, head of the education center, its deputy heads, judges, experts and all other administrative and auxiliary personnel in a way that was unseen even in "extraordinary times," referring to the several military coups in Turkish history.