Several high-ranking officials from a Turkish scientific research organization were fired on Wednesday after being linked to leaked recordings that allegedly embroiled Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in a corruption scheme, an expert familiar with the probe told International Business Times.
The wiretaps, leaked online Monday, contained four phone conversations that occurred on Dec. 17 as police raided several key allies of Erdogan's. On the recordings, Erdogan expressed concern that his home was going to be raided, and discussed with his son Bilal how to get rid of large amounts of cash kept there.
Although Erdogan claims the recordings were fake and a ploy by the Islamist Gulen movement -- which seeks to overthrow him, according to Erdogan -- he did not vehemently deny the allegations. Instead he deflected blame onto officials working at the Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey (Tubitak), who allegedly handed over the encryption key to authorities, who then tapped Erdogan’s and Bilal’s phone.
“It is very interesting," Erdogan said. "[Tubitak] even tap the state’s encrypted phones from there."
Erdogan made the comments after the recordings were leaked online.
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“A president cannot speak with a prime minister without being wiretapped in an instant,” he said, calling on the judiciary to take action against those who spied on him. Some are viewing his comments as tacit admission of guilt.
The expert, who did not want to be named because of the sensitivity of the story, told IBTimes that while Erdogan said the recordings were fake, he did acknowledge that Tubitak listened to encrypted communications, indicating that it likely was Erdogan's voice on the phone. He also noted that Tubitak is known to be a Gulenist stronghold.
“I think they suspected that five people … of Tubitak had given the encryption codes to the police, and they are supporters of [the] Gulen organization,” Aykut Erdogdu, a member of parliament for the opposition Republican People's Party (CHP), told IBTimes in a phone interview. CHP is a secular, liberal and social-democratic party.
Erdogdu was not able to confirm the recordings were Erdogan's but said it was “highly likely.”
Erdogan’s comments also angered CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu. “These cryptographic telephones have not been given to you to cover up your corruption. They were given to you to conduct state affairs,” he told the Hurriyet Daily, addressing the prime minister.
On Wednesday, several Turkish media outlets with close ties to Erdogan and his Islamist AKP party defended the prime minister by claiming the recordings were doctored.
The front-page headline of The Daily Sabah, a Turkish daily that supports Erdogan and AKP, read “Fabricated Recordings Seen As Attempt To Divert Attention.” The daily cited an "anonymous sound expert" who said the recordings were doctored.
The Daily Sabah claims its investigation found inconsistencies with the tapes because they falsely placed Erdogan in Ankara on Dec. 17, when the alleged conversation with his son took place. The daily concluded that Erdogan was at a public ceremony in Konya and unable to make such a call.
Fabricated recordings seen as attempt to divert attention. Today's front page: pic.twitter.com/bgQxQp8dn3
â€” DAILY SABAH (@dailysabah) February 26, 2014
On the other hand, another Turkish daily, also with ties to the Gulen movement, said efforts to disprove the recordings were not backed by evidence. According to Today’s Zamman, Kılıçdaroğlu matched the phone logs with the ceremony in Konya, concluding that the times did not coincide.
Kılıçdaroğlu also said that during a CHP member meeting Tuesday, he played the leaked phone conversation during a live broadcast on Turkey’s Parliament TV, which was interrupted, according to Hurriyet Daily. The interruption was seen as a sign that backers of Erdogan wanted to silence accusers.
This would not be the first time Erdogan or his backers tried to influence and manipulate the media. Back in June, a recording of Erdogan exposed his willingness to censor the press. Leaked on YouTube, the recording featured the prime minister demanding that a Turkish news station remove a news ticker he did not like during the Gezi Park protests.
“It is very surprising … There is no need for such things [to be displayed on television],” Erdogan said to the top manager of the news channel. According to the voice recording, the manager responded to Erdogan, saying, “I will deal with it immediately, sir.”
Meanwhile, on Wednesday a Tubitak official, Fikri Işık, said the alleged recordings were a "montage."
"In my personal view, it is not normal, psychologically speaking, for one person to speak very quietly when the other is speaking in a loud voice. It is clearly a montage … We could say that without any technical examination,” Işık told reporters.