ANKARA – The Turkish government fired 350 police officers in Ankara overnight, including heads of major departments, amid a vast corruption scandal that has ensnared key allies of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, local media reported Tuesday.
The officers were sacked by a government decree published at midnight and included chiefs of the financial crimes, anti-smuggling, cybercrime and organized crime units, the private Dogan News Agency reported.
The move comes as the government is trying to contain the high-level corruption probe that poses the biggest threat to Erdogan’s 11-year rule.
It has also exposed the influence of an exiled Muslim scholar on Turkey’s halls of power and his Byzantine relationship with the government.
The investigation is believed to be linked to simmering tensions between Erdogan’s government and followers of influential Muslim scholar Fethullah Gulen, who lives in exile in the United States.
Gulen’s followers hold key positions in various government branches, including with the police and judiciary.
Erdogan has denounced the investigation as a foreign-hatched plot to bring down his government and has responded by firing hundreds of police officials across the country, including the Istanbul police chief, since the probe first burst into the open in mid-December.
Erdogan’s critics accuse him of desperately trying to protect his cronies, and the appointment of Selami Altinok, a little-known governor with no background in police work, as Istanbul’s new police chief was further seen as an attempt to shut down the probe.
The crisis erupted on Dec. 17 when police arrested dozens of people, including sons of former ministers and the chief executive of Turkey’s state-run Halkbank. They are suspected of numerous offenses, including accepting and facilitating bribes for development projects and securing construction permits for protected areas.
Erdogan has vowed to battle “a state within a state,” apparently referring to Gulenists in the state apparatus and said he would not allow parallel structures. Gulen, whose followers were key backers of Erdogan’s party when it came to power in 2002, has denied any involvement in the inquiry.