[Analysis] Turkey’s rotten criminal justice system: The case of drug and extortion ring run by a prosecutor and police officers

In October last year officers from the Konya Police were carrying out a stop-and-search when they pulled over a car carrying a young couple and a baby. What seemed like a random search turned out to be a scandalous case which exposed the extent of decay in both the police and judiciary in the aftermath of the mass dismissals of thousands of police officers, judges and prosecutors following the failed coup attempt of July 2016.

According to police accounts, when his car was pulled over by the police, “Cumhur A”, also a police officer in Adana Police, first waved his police badge. But when asked to step out he drove off running over a police officer. When finally caught after a 20-kilometre pursuit, he tried to fight his way out, putting two of his fellow police officers in the hospital. 25 kilograms of heroin was found inside a holdall stashed away in the boot of the car he was driving.

“Not the first time a police officer turns bad”, one might think. “Nothing unusual for a country like Turkey which is located in the narcotics route between Afghanistan and Europe”. “Just another bad apple”. It would perhaps be considered as such, if the police officer in question was not from the narcotics unit and previously decorated for his efforts during a successful drug operation and the car, he was driving did not belong to a public prosecutor from the Terrorism Bureau of the Office of Adana Chief Public Prosecutor.

Osman Yarbas, the public prosecutor in question, is one of the thousands of lawyers who replaced the members of judiciary who Erdogan summarily dismissed during the state of emergency for their suspected links to the Gulen Movement. The Turkish government accuses the Gülen Movement and its leader Fethullah Gulen, a cleric living in reclusive exile in Pennsylvania,  of masterminding the failed coup in July 2016 and calls it a terrorist organization . The movement strongly denies any involvement in the coup attempt or any terrorist activity.

In the wake of the failed coup attempt of July 2016 National Security Council, chaired by Erdogan himself, declared a state of emergency which amongst other things gave him authority to issue executive orders known emergency decree laws. They meant legislation could be passed without parliamentary scrutiny. Unsurprising to many, one of the very first degrees included a list of thousands of judges and public prosecutors who were thus being dismissed from the profession.

According to a European Commission report published in 2020, 4,560 of some 14,500 Turkish judges and prosecutors who were then at office were dismissed by emergency decree laws following 15 July, almost one third of the judiciary. Erdogan and his ultra-nationalist partners were now both blessed and troubled by having to replace the problematic members of the judiciary with lawyers from within their own ranks. They started off by closing down the Justice Academy. Time was of the essence and in any case a proper professional training for prospective judges and prosecutors was the last thing Erdogan and his partners wanted. Then came the amendment in the score the candidates were required to get in the “judgeship/ prosecutorship” exam. With another emergency decree law, the minimum 70 points rule was abolished which meant the candidates would no longer be required to get a certain score in the written part of the exam in order to secure an interview. The interviews on the other hand according to witnesses were sometimes as short as 45 seconds, but long enough however to be able to check the interviewee’s references from ruling Justice and Development Party AKP or and its de facto coalition partner Nationalist Movement Party MHP.

This way Erdogan’s Ministry of Justice recruited more than 14,000 new judges and prosecutors since the failed coup of July 2016. Now, approximately 60 percent of the total 22,800 judges and public prosecutors have less than 5 years of experience in the profession. The quality of their decisions, or rather the lack thereof, is being strongly criticised by victims and their lawyers. They often make the headlines, of course for all the wrong reasons. In Diyarbakir, a public prosecutor got 14 people arrested whom he argued with during a 5-a-side football game. Another prosecutor got an emergency doctor arrested during his shift who reminded the prosecutor that he would have to get an appointment and wait for his turn. In Istanbul, a judge, during a hearing, tried to measure the length of the skirt of the lawyer of one of the parties.

But it is the extortion rings run by judges and prosecutors which keep cropping up in different parts of Turkey which is the most telling about the current state of the judiciary as designed and controlled by Erdogan himself. After the failed coup attempt Erdogan, who had already been targeting followers of Fethullah Gulen,  since the corruption investigations in late 2013 which implicated his son and members of his party, orchestrated, with the help of Turkey’s broad and vague anti-terror laws and the judiciary, mass arrest of hundreds of thousands of people for terrorism. Torture and ill-treatment of detainees were rife, access to a lawyer was extremely difficult if not impossible and in most cases a suspect would be lucky to appear before a judge before a year or so behind bars.

This set the perfect scene for some of Erdogan’s judges and prosecutors. Extortion rings, infamously referred to in Turkey as “FETO Exchange” were quickly formed in order to cash in on the suffering of thousands of innocent people who were being targeted by Erdogan. They had no one to turn to. They specially targeted businessmen and extorted money with threat of arrest and imprisonment and confiscation of all their assets. Turkish courts or the government have confiscated private property worth over 30 billion USD since 2016. Turkish businessmen were therefore terrified with the thought of being linked to terrorism and losing all of their assets and ending up in prison penniless.

According to newspapers close to Erdogan, Osman Yarbas was one such prosecutor. He was appointed as a prosecutor after 2016. When he was arrested as the ringleader of the drug gang, the police found in his mobile, messages he was exchanging with another member of the extortion ring. The victim was a doctor working in a public hospital. He had probably, like tens of thousands of others, been reported to CIMER for his links to the Gulen Movement, Erdogan’s Presidential Communication Centre and the matter had been referred to the police which had naturally informed Osman Yarbas as the prosecutor.

Prosecutor Yarbas: “Did you tell him that he would be kicked out (from civil service)?”

Coconspirator*:“I told him that just now. He says 400,000 (Turkish Liras) is impossible.” (*most likely a police officer.)

Prosecutor Yarbas: “Then tell him, it is your call!”

Screenshot 2022-07-28 at 22.32.04

Prosecutor Osman Yarbas calls his man again some time later. Prosecutor Yarbas:“Any news?”

Coconspirator:“I spoke to him. He says; ‘I haven’t got any money. Let him prosecute me!’”

Prosecutor Yarbas: “OK. Then we will.”

Coconspirator: “Exactly! Just do it.”

With the prospect of easy money slipping through his fingers, Osman Yarbas sounds desperate:

Prosecutor Yarbas: “Do you think we should accept the 100,000? I really need money.” he asks, and dialogue continues as follows:

Coconspirator: “Well, I told him ‘200,000 is the final offer.’ and gave him time until tomorrow.”

Prosecutor Yarbas:“OK.”

Some believe the case has ended up in court because of some sort of power struggle between different groups at the top and it is just the tip of the iceberg. Whatever the reason may be, it laid bare the extent of corruption within the police and the judiciary as brought about by summary mass dismissal of thousands of qualified and experienced judges and prosecutors and replacing them with party members. And, Turkish people do not have a snowball’s chance in hell of finding justice in this rotten system.

Categories: Turkey Human Rights Blog

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2 replies


  1. Is the Turkish judiciary turning into a criminal syndicate? - The Arrested Lawyers Initiative
  2. Is the Turkish judiciary turning into a criminal syndicate? - The Arrested Lawyers Initiative
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