Is the Turkish judiciary turning into a criminal syndicate?

For human rights activists, the question is presently not whether the Turkish judiciary, including civil and criminal courts and the prosecution, has been corrupted to the core, but whether this corruption can ever be amended, even with the possibility of Erdogan and his government being replaced in the next year’s general election.


Daily, the infamous “third pages” of Turkish tabloids are plastered with lawful scandals involving, in one way or another, judges or prosecutors. 

Below are just a handful of events discussed in recent Turkish tabloids:

One reads, “Osman Ozan, a prosecutor at Istanbul’s Anatolian Courthouse, had sexual relations with prostitutes and in return, he closed their prosecution files involving blackmail and theft”.

“A 64-year-old judge took a 30-year-old female clerk hostage with his gun [inside the courthouse], allegedly for unrequited love” reports another one.

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Another: “Public prosecutor Dursun Yılmaz transferred confidential information on Iranian dissidents living in Turkey to the Iranian intelligence by gathering them through the National Judicial Network Information System (UYAP)” reported one newspaper. The same prosecutor allegedly hired a gunman to have his ex-girlfriend who broke up with him shot.

According to another newspaper report, an opposition MP said, “four prosecutors in the province of Van had been buying and selling narcotics and historical artefacts which were seized from traffickers by the police. This narcotics network run by prosecutors was exposed only when a criminal gang reported the matter to the police! If you script this for Netflix, they would say, ‘Don’t exaggerate so much, is such a thing even possible?!”

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One of the latest stories reads, “a lady judge in the province of Iskenderun delivers decisions in favour of her lover to help him defraud the treasury to the tune of 25 billion Turkish liras through shell companies and fake invoices, and in return receives expensive “gifts” such as cars, Rolex watches as well as cash.”

New Normal of the Turkish Judiciary: Judges and Prosecutors as Criminal Ring Leaders


And in an additional trail of events, awarded narcotic police officer, Cumhur A., and anti-terror prosecutor, Osman Yarbas, were detained after Cumhur A. was caught with kilos of narcotics, with his text messages exposing Yarbas’ operations of a drug and extortion ring, mostly consisting of police officers.

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

These stories are so shocking that one would believe they are fabricated. It would be wrong, however, to believe that such corruption may exist in other jurisdictions, or that the above were isolated incidents. 

The reason for this rot is due to the sort of judiciary Erdogan has so meticulously crafted. This judiciary is most certainly not be one of integrity, impartiality, or independence, as one would expect of such an important foundation of society. This is evident given Erdogan’s relationship with both members of the judiciary as well as the judiciary as a whole in the past.

Since his election, Erdogan has selected judges and prosecutors who have demonstrated willingness and preparedness to do his dirty bidding. For those who did not demonstrate this same ability, thousands of judges and public prosecutors and judges have been languishing in prison cells for the past six years – are a testament as to his stance against those who are not so.

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For instance, Ismail Rustu Cirit, then an obscure criminal judge in an Istanbul court, acquitted Erdogan of elaborately syphoning off millions of Turkish Liras from the Municipality of Istanbul. As soon as Erdogan became prime minister, Ismail Rustu Cirit was appointed to the Turkish Court of Cassation where he subsequently became a head of a chamber, and eventually, in 2015, the president of the Court of Cessation itself. Erdogan was tactical with this placement as he needed Ismail Rustu Cirit in the court in his corner in order to fully control the Supreme Appeal Court.

Additionally, following the famous “17-23 December Graft Investigations” in which Erdogan’s son, some of his ministers, and certain businessmen who were very close to him, were caught with their hands in the till Erdogan prevented the judiciary from being a threat to his corrupt dealings and from pressing charges. It is this sense of impunity in the Turkish judiciary that is the catalyst behind all of the scandals involving judges and public prosecutors who, by the nature of their positions, are supposed to be a beacon of integrity amongst the rest of the public. Again, this supposed impunity is what allows the members of the judiciary to see themselves above the law and be involved in increasingly serious offences, such as the headlines previously discussed.

The ATADEDELER Ring run by a prosecutor and an anti-terror judge

The most recent, the ATADEDELER Ring scandal is one such case where senior members of the judiciary have abused the weight of their positions in order to form and run a crime ring to defraud victims. A statement from one their victims taken by the prosecution reads:

”…The person who introduced me to that organisation is Public Prosecutor Bülent CEBECİ, Izmir Karşıyaka. Bülent CEBECİ told me that the organization would be formed of patriots, loyal to the state, and, once training was established, I would be provided with the knowledge of the President’s office and MIT [The Turkish National Intelligence Agency]. Because this person told me that he was a public prosecutor, I trusted him and asked him how I could be a part of the organisation. Bülent CEBECİ first took my CV and sent it to Manisa Public Prosecutor Hidayet KAYA.”

He goes on further to say,

“I was told that if I accepted to be a part of the organisation, I would earn very good money, I would be given a car, and my file in the court where I was accused of being a member of FETÖ/PDY would be dealt with. I accepted their offer free myself of the court case.”

“Although I had a criminal record, my application was accepted. Hidayet KAYA then told me to send 15,000 TL to Salice FEDAKAR’s bank account, and I transferred the money…”

To debrief this account: FETÖ/PDY is a derogatory acronym used by the Turkish government to name the Gülen Movement which was designated as a terrorist organisation in 2016 by the government. So, a public prosecutor targets a victim whom he knows to have been prosecuted for his alleged link to the Gulen Movement in order to defraud him out of 15,000 Turkish Liras. He refers him to a fellow public prosecutor who then tells him to send money to another member of their gang who is responsible for handling money. Finally, a general meeting is organised which all the members of the gang and their unsuspecting victims attend.

The victim continues:

“Bahtiyar ÇOLAK, the Chief of Ankara 22nd High Criminal Court was also present in the meeting so I began to completely trust the organisation. I visited Bahtiyar ÇOLAK in his office in Ankara, and he told me that he was in direct communication with the President and that he had met with the leaders of the organisation, thus making me believe that I was now part of a high-level organisation”.

This is particularly telling of the way Erdogan’s judiciary and administration have been so intertwined that the victim does not even question why a judge should be acting with the instructions of the president’s office and the intelligence services.

More than 500 complainants about Kaya and Çolak stated that they organised meetings at luxury hotels across the country to recruit new members for their organisation. There, they presented themselves the new economical intelligence branch of the state and promised attendees they would provide them with an opportunity to serve the Turkish nation by having them trained and recruited as spies and in return, attendees paid 15,000 Turkish Liras as a participation fee.

During these meetings prosecutor Hidayet Kaya often said that he was the prosecutor who conducted the largest operation against the Gülen Movement. It was of course to assure the audience about his power and convince them to participate in their organisation and make the required payment.

Relatively, Bahtiyar Kaya was a very prominent member of the government-backed judges and prosecutors’ organisation called Yargida Birlik (Unity in the Judiciary). He served as the chief judge in very important criminal trials, i.e. the trial of Kurdish politicians including Selahattin Demirtas and Figen Yüksekdag, imprisoned co-leaders of Kurdish HDP. In another trial, he sentenced 21 Ankara lawyers to 150 years in prison. He also tried thousands of members of the Gülen Movement as the chief judge of Ankara anti-terror court. His links to the government and his track record in the persecution of members of the Gulen Movement and Kurdish politicians have evidently made him feel untouchable. So, too, must have felt Hidayet Kaya who boasted boasted of conducting the largest operation against the Gülen Movement.

Despite defrauding more than 500 people, Kaya and Çolak were treated favourably by the Turkish judiciary. Çolak, whose brother is a member of the Court of Cassation, was given the option of resignation by the Council of Judges and Prosecutors. He can, therefore, now practise as a lawyer. Instead of being sent to prison pending trial, he has been placed in house arrest, something he, as a judge, denied to thousands of people persecuted by Erdogan.

With these cases and instances in mind, we return to the opening question:

There may be a chance to drag the judiciary to universal standards if the opposition does the following actions: (1) In Turkey, treats the judiciary, at its current state, as nothing more than willing executioners of President Erdogan’s schemes, and (2) refrain from offering them even the slightest legitimacy. Then, the opposition should (3) promise breakthrough reforms in the judiciary with the assistance of the Venice Commission. This task must involve the re-vetting of all judges, prosecutors and subjecting judges who have prioritised their partisan agendas over their civil duties, in compliance with the respective guidelines of the Council of Europe, as members of the judiciary to a lustration process.

Without these steps, the Turkish judiciary may remain stagnant in its corruption and abusive processes.

Categories: Turkey Human Rights Blog

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