Ankara, Reuters—Sixteen people, including the sons of two ministers, were charged on Saturday in connection with a Turkish corruption investigation that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has called a “dirty operation” aimed at undermining his rule, media said.
Süleyman Aslan, the general manager of state-owned Halkbank, was also formally arrested and charged alongside Barış Güler, the son of the interior minister, and Kaan Çağlayan, the son of the economy minister, CNN Turk and others reported.
The operation, unprecedented in scope, began last week with the detention of scores of people seen as close to the government. It has struck at the heart of Turkey’s ruling elite and roiled financial markets.
A total of 24 people are now in detention, awaiting trial on corruption allegations. A court on Saturday ordered the release of 33 others, including the mayor of Istanbul’s Fatih district, Mustafa Demir, and the son of Turkey’s environment minister, the media reported.
Dozens of police chiefs have been removed from their posts, accused of abuse of office for keeping the investigation quiet from higher level officials in security institutions.
In related news, influential Turkish Islamic cleric Fethullah Gülen has cursed those responsible for a purge of police officers involved in a corruption investigation, in his first comments on the case that has struck at the heart of the ruling elite.
Gülen’s words, invoking God’s punishment, raise the stakes in a crisis seen as the biggest challenge to Erdoğan in 11 years.
Erdoğan has called the detention of scores of people seen as close to the government a “dirty operation” aimed at undermining his rule. Dozens of police chiefs have been removed from their posts since the detentions began.
Erdoğan has refrained from naming Gülen, who has influence in the police and judiciary, as the hand behind the investigation. But Gülen’s Hizmet (“Service”) movement has been increasingly at odds with Erdoğan in recent months.
“Those who don’t see the thief but go after those trying to catch the thief, who don’t see the murder but try to defame others by accusing innocent people—let God bring fire to their houses, ruin their homes, break their unities,” Gülen said in a recording uploaded to one of his websites on Friday.
The reclusive preacher has lived in the United States since 1999.