Turkish energy minister quits over corruption allegations

Published April 30th, 2001 - 02:00 GMT

Turkey's Energy Minister Cumhur Ersumer announced his resignation Friday, April 27, over allegations of widespread corruption at his ministry, in a move likely to defuse tension between the troubled government's three coalition partners.  

 

"I submitted my resignation yesterday (Thursday)" to Deputy Prime Minister Mesut Yilmaz, leader of the Motherland Party (ANAP), Ersumer told a press conference here. "It is not possible for me to work at the ministry anymore," said the minister, who is an ANAP member. Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit quickly accepted the resignation offer. 

 

"Ersumer has not only resigned from his post, but has also announced that he will ask for his political immunity to be lifted if there is a demand to try him," read the brief statement. Finance Minister Sumer Oral is to head the energy ministry until a permanent replacement is named. The 49-year-old Ersumer's resignation, which came after his name appeared in an indictment on corruption at the ministry, was welcomed by both business circles and the opposition. 

 

"It is the right decision, but it came late," said Lutfi Esengun of the main opposition pro-Islamic Virtue Party. Turkey's influential business group, TUSIAD, which had previously urged the minister to quit, hailed Ersumer for taking what it called a "responsible" step. But the most significant impact of Ersumer's resignation was to avert a likely crisis in the embattled government, which could have dragged the country into chaos in the midst of a severe economic crisis. 

 

After the issuing of the indictment, prepared by a top prosecutor at the Ankara state security court, ANAP's two coalition partners—Ecevit's Democratic Left Party (DSP) and Devlet Bahceli's Nationalistic Action Party (MHP)—began to question Ersumer's insistence that he remain in office. 

 

"If I were in his place, I would resign," said Defense Minister Sabahattin Cakmakoglu, from the far-right MHP, while Ali Arabaci from the DSP argued that the severity of the accusation called for Ersumer's immediate resignation. 

 

In addition to dissident voices within the coalition, the opposition parties also piled pressure on the government to sack Ersumer. But Ecevit maintained Friday that the claims against Ersumer had never caused friction in the coalition. "The coalition partners are working in harmony," he asserted. 

 

Ersumer was not among the 15 people, including senior bureaucrats from the energy ministry and the state-run electricity company TEAS, charged in the indictment, but his name was mentioned by some of the defendants. 

 

The charges against the defendants included setting up a criminal gang, giving out and taking bribes, fraud in energy tenders and abuse of office. However, the indictment indirectly implicated Ersumer as guilty of corruption himself, as he was the sole authority to approve ministry contracts. 

But on Friday, Ersumer denied any wrongdoing, describing the allegations against him as "unjust and biased". 

 

"I never felt guilty in the depth of my conscience and have never shied away from resigning," said Ersumer, flanked by deputies and ministers from ANAP in a show of solidarity. 

 

The investigation into the energy ministry, dubbed "Operation White Energy", was launched in January amid allegations of corruption in multi-million-dollar tenders and projects that reportedly caused the state to rack up huge losses. 

 

The investigation was part of an anti-corruption drive by Ecevit's coalition targeting fields ranging from drug-trafficking and customs operations to energy tenders and fraudulent exports. — (AFP, Anakara) 

 

© Agence France Presse 2001  

© 2001 Mena Report (www.menareport.com)

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