Three Turkish ministers resign
amid corruption probe

Environment Minister Erdogan Bayraktar asks prime minister to do the same

Turkey's European Affairs Minister Egemen Bagis (L), Interior Minister Muammer Guler (C) and Economy Minister Zafer Caglayan (R) chat as they wait for the arrival of Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan at Esenboga Airport in Ankara December 24, 2013.

Three Cabinet ministers resigned in Turkey Wednesday, days after their sons were taken into custody in a sweeping corruption and bribery scandal that has targeted Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's allies in one of the worst political crises of his more than 10 years in power.

Economy Minister Zafer Caglayan, Interior Minister Muammer Guler and Environment Minister Erdogan Bayraktar announced their resignations Wednesday on national and privately owned television.

Bayraktar urged the prime minister to step down.

"I am stepping down as minister and MP ... I believe the prime minister should also resign," he told private news broadcaster NTV.

Still, all three ministers denied any wrongdoing.

Turkey was shaken by three sensational corruption investigations last week that led to dozens of detentions and 24 arrests of people ranging from influential business leaders to senior bureaucrats and the ministers' sons.

Caglayan's and Guler's sons, along with the chief executive officer of state-run bank Halkbank, are among 24 people who have been arrested on bribery charges. Bayraktar's son, Abdullah Oguz, was detained as part of the probe, but later released from custody.

Media reports said police have seized $4.5 million in cash that was stashed in shoe boxes in the home of the bank's CEO, while more than $1 million in cash was reportedly discovered in the home of Guler's son, Baris.

'No wrongdoing'

Caglayan announced his resignation in a written statement on Wednesday morning, calling the investigations a "dirty set up" against Turkey and the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).

Rejecting any wrongdoing during his time, he said that he was resigning in order to disrupt what he calls a scheme against the government. 

“I am stepping down from my post as economy minister so that this ugly game targeting my close colleagues and my son will be spoiled and the truth will be revealed," Caglayan said.

Guler told the semi-official Anatolia news agency that he submitted his official written resignation on Wednesday morning.

The government started reshuffling the Turkish police force hours after the investigation was revealed, moving dozens of senior police officers, including the Istanbul police chief, to passive positions over Ankara's claims of "abuse of office.”

Festering tension

Turkish commentators believe the probe is fallout from an increasingly public feud and power struggle between Erdogan's government and an influential U.S.-based Muslim cleric, Fethullah Gulen, whose followers are believed to have a strong foothold within Turkey's police and judiciary. The two men have been engaged in a war of words since the corruption probe was launched on Dec. 17.

Gulen has denied being involved in the investigation. He left Turkey in 1999 after being accused by the then-secular government of plotting to establish an Islamic state. He was later cleared of that charge and allowed to return to his homeland, but he never has and is living in Pennsylvania.

In an address to his party's provincial leaders, Erdogan distanced himself from the ministers who resigned by emphasizing his party's record and determination to fight corruption. But he also repeated a claim that his government was the target of an international plot involving the media and "gangs" inside Turkey — a tactic he has also used during the summer's anti-government protests to deflect criticism.

"There are media institutions, organizations and gangs in Turkey who think of others' interests rather than their own country's interests, and are working as spies in a treasonous manner," Erdogan said.

In a veiled attack on Gulen, Erdogan said, "They speak of the Quran and of Allah but are remembered for ... plots."

Last week, Erdogan threatened to expel ambassadors from Turkey after four pro-government newspapers accused U.S. Ambassador Francis J. Ricciardone of scheming against the government. 

One newspaper, Sabah, pressed ahead with that allegation Wednesday by claiming that a U.S. diplomat had prodded a business group to join an "anti-government lobby."

That prompted a new rebuttal from the U.S. Embassy.

“Allegations targeting U.S. Embassy employees published in some media organs do not reflect the truth," the embassy said in a statement in Turkish. "To repeat once again: No one should endanger Turkey-U.S. relations through such intentional slander."

Al Jazeera and wire services

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