Two ministers' sons charged in Turkish graft probe: TV

Two ministers' sons charged in Turkish graft probe: TV
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses MPs from his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) during a meeting at the parliament in Ankara on December 3, 2013.

ISTANBUL - The sons of the Turkish interior and economy ministers were charged and placed in custody early Saturday in connection with a graft probe that has tarnished Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, television stations reported.

The managing director of state-owned Halkbank was also among those charged with corruption, fraud, trafficking in gold and embezzlement, NTV and CNN-Turk reported.

It was the first time that such a large scandal has hit those close to Erdogan who has run Turkey since 2002 as the head of a conservative Islamic-leaning government.

The crisis erupted Tuesday when police made the arrests in a series of dawn raids.

Among those detained were the sons of Interior Minister Muammer Guler, Economy Minister Zafer Caglayan and Environment Minister Erdogan Bayraktar, along with the chief executive of state-owned Halkbank, Suleyman Aslan.

But the son of the environment minister, detained along with 80 others, was released overnight Friday after hours of questioning by prosecutors and judges. The crisis has rattled the stock market and sent the Turkish lira to an all-time low.

Since the scandal broke out, Erdogan has sacked dozens of police officials, including the Istanbul police chief, for cooperating with the investigation without permission.

Turkish media said another 17 were fired on Friday alone, amid a widening purge of the police command.

Erdogan's critics accuse him of desperately trying to protect his cronies, and the appointment of Selami Altinok, a little-known governor with no police career, as Istanbul's new police chief was further seen as an attempt to shut down the investigation.

Altinok raised eyebrows when he landed in Istanbul on Thursday in the premier's private jet.

The Erdogan government's allegation of a plot against it echoes its reaction to mass protests that shook the country in June, when a police crackdown on a peaceful sit-in against plans to raze an Istanbul park sparked huge demonstrations against the prime minister and his party.

At least six people died and 8,000 were hurt in three weeks of protests.

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