December 7, 2010
ISTANBUL—Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey suggested Wednesday the U.S should punish diplomats who reported claims in leaked State Department cables that he and his family are corrupt, and said he planned to take legal action against them.
In a sometimes furious televised address at the start of an investment conference in Ankara, Mr. Erdogan said, “My friends in the judiciary and we are working to do what is necessary about these diplomats. We spoke to the U.S. They did apologize, but it is not enough. The U.S. should do what is necessary about these diplomats.”
“Those who smear us will be crushed under their accusations; they will end, disappear,” Mr. Erdogan said, adding that one person who previously claimed he made $1 billion in kickbacks while he was mayor of Istanbul in the 1990s was now awaiting trial as a member of an alleged terrorist organization. The group, known as Ergenekon, is accused of attempting to topple the government, among other crimes.
“I don’t have a single kurus in Swiss banks. If you prove this, I will resign. But will you stay in your posts?” he said. A kurus is a hundredth of a Turkish lira.
A senior aide to Mr. Erdogan clarified that lawyers from the justice ministry were examining the feasibility of suing under international, U.S. and Turkish law.
The decision to seek legal action after first playing down the cables and attacking the credibility of WikiLeaks appears to have been triggered by domestic politics ahead of elections next June, and suggests the leaks could have continued fallout for U.S. diplomacy. Opposition party leaders are demanding that Mr. Erdogan and his government answer the claims of widespread government corruption in the cables.
Among cables published so far regarding Turkey is one dated Dec. 30, 2004, from former U.S. ambassador Eric Edelman, in which he writes about widespread corruption, naming several ministers from the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP.
“We have heard from two contacts that Erdogan has eight accounts in Swiss banks; his explanations that his wealth comes from the wedding presents guests gave his son and that a Turkish businessman is paying the educational expenses of all four Erdogan children in the U.S. purely altruistically are lame.”
Mr. Edelman retired from the State Department last year and is now a nonresident scholar at the Merrill Center for Strategic Studies at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies. Contacted through a spokeswoman, he declined to comment on Mr. Erdogan’s remarks or on the WikiLeaks cables Wednesday.
In another cable earlier in 2004, Mr. Edelman reported claims “that have never been proved” that Mr. Erdogan had made his fortune by accepting kickbacks as mayor of Istanbul and that he “directly” benefited from the privatization of the state oil-refinery company Tupras.
An unsigned February 2002 cable report named Mr. Erdogan’s brother Mustafa and several close friends of the prime minister as beneficiaries in an Iranian natural-gas pipeline deal. The deal went to a joint venture in which the Turkish party would be a little-known company called Som Petrol.
Mr. Erdogan on Wednesday also singled out a cable that accused his son-in-law Sadik Albayrak of embezzlement. “The man doesn’t know about anything else but writing; they made him a builder,” Mr. Erdogan said.
Addressing opposition leaders, Mr. Erdogan said it wasn’t for him to disprove such claims, but for the people who made or repeated them to prove them. He accused the U.S. ambassador, apparently Mr. Edelman, of bearing a grudge and suggested there was jealousy involved at Turkey’s success in securing popularity and influence in the Middle East, Kosovo and other countries.
“If you respect your country and yourself, you will not embrace smears thrown out by foreigners at the prime minister of this country,” Mr. Erdogan said. “An honorable media organization would stand up and ask… ‘Honorary Prime Minister, is there something like this. If there is, we will research it.’ But if you take action without asking, it would be immorality and worthlessness.”
Kemal Kilicdaroglu, leader of the main opposition Republican People’s Party, responded swiftly on Wednesday. “If [Mr. Erdogan] is saying, ‘I cannot call the U.S. to account, thus I should be angry at the opposition party instead’, that is not right,” Mr. Kilicdaroglu said. “This is a serious claim… It is said that he has eight different accounts in Swiss banks. Somebody has to answer this.”
Write to Marc Champion at email@example.comKader Sevinc