In our Turkey Human Rights Blog, we have published several articles about the extent of corruption within the Turkish judiciary and how instrumental corrupt judges and prosecutors have been for the government in the persecution of its opponents. It was mostly a “scratch my back” arrangement which served both parties perfectly well. The corrupt judges and prosecutors quickly climbed the career ladder, and thus had the opportunity to be involved in greater corruption and got richer while the government got rid of all serious opposition. Some of such members of the judiciary, carefully selected by the government, however, were an active part of its plans. Okan Bato was one of them.
Who is Okan Bato?
Okan Bato served as the deputy chief public prosecutor in charge of the anti-terrorism bureau in Izmir, the 3rd largest city in the country home to over 4 million people, between 2015 to 2019. The government considered him key in terms of its certain plans and Okan Bato never disappointed the government.
Arbitrary Imprisonment of Pastor Brunson
Bato was the public prosecutor who prosecuted US pastor Andrew Brunson in December 2016 on charges of terrorism and espionage in order for the government to have leverage over the US administration which was quite critical of the human rights violations following the attempted coup of July earlier that year. It was Bato himself who prosecuted quite a number of military officers including generals. He also orchestrated the imprisonment of thousands of alleged members of the Gulen Movement including women with small children, the elderly and the sick.
Okan Bato was constantly receiving praise from both the pro-government Sunni sects and also by nationalist seculars. For instance, after Bato’s involvement in the arrest of Pastor Brunson, a senior figure from the Istanbul-based Ismail Aga sect visited him and publicly commended his actions, claiming that Bato cracked down on spies posing as both pastors and Muslims.
On the other hand, CHP MP Aytun Ciray and secular journalist Ugur Dundar called him a hero and praised him for cracking down the Gulen Movement and what they referred to as ‘imperialist’ forces in Turkey.
Indeed, Prosecutor Bato and the likes of him did not let down the government. The better he delivered the more powerful he got. Soon it was time to cash in. Immediately after the coup attempt, credible sources started reporting an Izmir-based criminal ring which extorted money from those with links to the Gulen Movement under threat of prosecution and certain imprisonment. According to the same reports, the criminal ring consisted of high-ranking police officers, an AKP MP, the deputy chair of the ruling AKP’s Izmir office, judges and public prosecutors. The extortion ring ran smoothly for a few years and ended up with the assassination of the deputy chair of ruling AKP’s Izmir branch by those wearing police uniforms. Although allegations have never been effectively investigated, it was allegedly an intra-ring show-down.
In late 2018, in a move which surprised many, Okan Bato was abruptly removed from his position in the anti-terrorism bureau of the Izmir Public Prosecutor’s Office. The details of the reasons behind his removal remained a mystery until recently when Turkish journalist Tolga Sardan, known for his sources within the law enforcement, published two articles which exposed Bato’s dealings.
Recent revelations about Bato’s corrupt acts
According to Sardan, the investigators assigned by the Turkish Council of Judges and Prosecutors found that Bato had threatened several businessmen in Izmir with arrest and extorted substantial sums of money from them. Bato also organised a setup whereby monies were syphoned off companies placed under the administration of trustees while their actual owners were being prosecuted by Bato himself. In addition, inspectors found that Bato asked a businessman to pay him 5 million US dollars and told him that he would otherwise detain him. When the businessman in question refused to pay Bato, he was immediately arrested. The inspectors also found that Bato accepted expensive gifts from shady characters and his wealth increased astronomically (10 times the amount he could save) during his time in Izmir.
Despite these damning findings, the Council of Judges and Prosecutors shockingly refused to dismiss Okan Bato. Instead, they reassigned him to the province of Antalya from Izmir, a move that many see as a reward rather than a punishment.
After all, he is a safe pair of hands for the government. Tried and tested.
Categories: Turkey Human Rights Blog