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Turkey's Growing Corruption Problem Is Getting Harder to Hide

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Money in a shoebox. Viral image.

In the last twelve months, the Turkish state has appeared significantly more corrupt. That is the underlying message of Transparency International's latest Corruption Perceptions Index, released December 3.

This comes as no surprise to anybody who has been living in Turkey during this period.

Around this time last year, Turkish citizens woke up to the biggest corruption scandal in the country's modern history. Key political figures, including ministers from the ruling Justice and Development Party and their sons, housing officials, the CEO of a major state-owned bank and an Iranian businessman were all arrested by Turkish police and held on suspicion of bribery, money laundering, and corruption. A police investigation is still ongoing and a parliamentary commission banned media outlets from reporting on it last month. 

The December 17 arrests were followed up by images taken by police of millions of dollars stuffed in shoe boxes at the residence of the CEO of Halk Bank, Suleyman Aslan, and purported recordings of phone conversations in which then-Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (now Turkey's president) allegedly discusses a strategy for hiding vast amounts of cash with his son, Bilal. 

Amid accusations that the Justice and Development Party played a role in pushing through changes in the police and judiciary, only one minor trial was held. 

The arrests divided Turkey, with supporters from the Justice and Development Party claiming the recordings were dubbed, while others vented their fury at what they viewed as an obvious government cover-up.

Capturing the resentment some Turkish citizens felt towards the alleged family affairs of the Justice and Development Party at the time, Deli Gaffar, a blogger, wrote:

Bu iş bir baba-oğul konusu değildir. Bakanlarla oğulları arasındaki ilişki bir baba-oğul ilişkisini aşmış, bir tür iş ortaklığı da denilebilecek çete birlikteliğine varmıştır. Genellikle oğullar babalarla aynı sosyal çevreyi soludukları için babanın pis işlerine ortak olma, ya da en azından alet olma olasılığı hayli yüksektir. Ancak tersi de olabilir, yüksek ahlaklı bir baba, oğlu yüzünden bozulabilir ya da belki sırf evladını koruma güdüsüyle ilkelerinden taviz verebilir.

This is not an issue of father-son. The relationship between the ministers and their sons is beyond a father-son relationship, it has become a gang-type union that can also be called a business partnership. Usually, since sons breathe in the same social sphere as their dads, it is very likely for them to become like their fathers. However, the opposite can also happen, a father with high morality can degenerate because of his son, or he might compromise his ideals with the instinct of protecting his child.

On Twitter, people tweeted under the hash tags #hırsızvar (#thiefishere), #17Aralık (#17december), and #yolsuzluk (#corruption).

Those hashtags are still strong almost twelve months later, as Transparency's 2014 index reveals Turkey as the country that deteriorated more than any other in the 2013-14 corruption stakes.

The Corruption Perceptions Index ranks 175 countries, providing them each with a score between 0 (highly corrupt) to 100 (very clean). According to Transparency International's index, two thirds of the world's countries rank below 50, and no one country scores 100. Turkey, which had a score of 50 last time the index was published, has 45 this time round. 

Mom, they have stolen the box for my new shoes #corruption

The 2013 scandal also precipitated broad censorship of social and traditional media. Government restrictions on Twitter and Youtube grew tighter in the run up to the recent presidential elections, which Erdoğan won, and remain in place. Newspapers and television channels were prevented from reporting on any hearings involving the ministers associated with the scandal November 26 after the leader of a parliamentary commission decided the ministers were “innocent until proven guilty”, and should therefore be free of press scrutiny.

But as one tweep noted, this has not diminished public interest in the case:

This broadcasting ban has backfired so bad… Now everyone talks about their stealing first, then they talk about this ban.. #17december

Today's #17december commission, which consists of the hearing of the ministers is not being shown. Long live the national will, long live the national corruption.

During a December 3 press conference marking the index's release, attended by a Global Voices author, Oya Ozarslan, Transparency International Turkey's chair of board, warned that corruption was a “systematic problem” in Turkey, that required a “systematic response”.

In the space of a year, the December 17 case had turned into an issue of fundamental human rights and democratic values, she added.  

Other Transparency International studies suggest that corruption extends well beyond the president and his inner circle, however. According to the organisation's 2013 Global Corruption Barometer21% of Turkish citizens surveyed believed they had paid a bribe to at least one public sector institution that year. Additionally 61% of citizens believe that having an acquaintance within a given public institution is a very important factor in accessing proper public services.

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