ANKARA, Turkey — Environment Minister Erdogan Bayraktar became the third minister to step down Wednesday over graft allegations and said his actions were approved by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whom he also urged to quit.
Bayraktar, speaking on NTV television, said redevelopment plans mentioned in a graft probe were done with Erdogan’s blessing.
“I have nothing that I can’t explain,” he said before announcing his resignation as minister and lawmaker. “Most of the redevelopment plans were done under orders of the prime minister.” The Turkish lira reversed earlier gains after his remarks.
Bayraktar headed the state housing authority TOKI, which reports directly to Erdogan, before joining the Cabinet.
Earlier Wednesday, Economy Minister Zafer Caglayan and Interior Minister Muammer Guler also resigned over the probe that has entangled their sons, which they say is a plot to smear the government before local elections in March. Bayraktar said he was pressured into resigning.
Sons of Caglayan and Guler were charged and jailed in connection with the police investigation into suspected bribery, money laundering and gold smuggling. Bayraktar’s son was released pending trial.
State-run Anatolia news agency cited Guler as saying yesterday that “there is an effort to create a certain reputation about the government ahead of the elections. It is politically motivated.”
Caglayan said in a written statement that he was stepping down to expose a “dirty game” and allow “the truth to be uncovered.” Guler’s office released a statement warning of a “dark conspiracy against the government, the ruling party and Turkey.”
Erdogan, who was unaware of the probe until the arrests began on Dec. 17, removed hundreds of police chiefs and officers from their posts in response, eliciting charges that he is trying to hamper the investigation.
Erdogan may announce a cabinet reshuffle after meeting with President Abdullah Gul, the president said Tuesday. Ten ministers may be replaced as early as today, according to Turkey’s Dunya newspaper, which did not say where it got the information.
“If anyone is taking what belongs to the people from their purses and safes, both the judiciary and we will hold them accountable,” Erdogan told hundreds of supporters who greeted him yesterday at the airport in Ankara upon his return from Pakistan.
The lira weakened 0.3 percent to 2.0828 a dollar at 2:15 p.m. in Istanbul. The Borsa Istanbul 100 Index fell 3.2 percent. The national currency and equity index both reversed earlier gains after Bayraktar’s resignation was announced.
A total of four ministers were implicated in the probe, according to the government. EU Minister Egemen Bagis was also implicated in three secret investigations that began over the past 15 months and suddenly broke open on Dec. 17 with a police sweep that took dozens into custody, according to Hurriyet newspaper Dec. 19.
Other suspects include Suleyman Aslan, chief executive officer of state lender Turkiye Halk Bankasi AS, top bureaucrats from the economy ministry and Reza Zarrab, an Iranian-Azeri businessman, who is accused of gold smuggling and illicit money transfers from Iran to Turkey.
Zarrab is also said to have given a $335,000 watch to Caglayan as a gift, according to Zaman newspaper, which did not say how it got the information.
Shares of Emlak Konut Gayrimenkul Yatirim Ortakligi AS, the real estate unit of the state housing agency TOKI, has plunged 15.1 percent since the probe broke Dec. 17.
Caglayan used to run a family aluminum business and headed the Ankara Industrialists’ Association for 12 years until he was elected as a lawmaker in 2007. Before he was appointed Economy Minister in 2011, he served as minister of trade and industry and minister of foreign trade.
The 56-year-old minister frequently accused the Turkish central bank last year of depressing economic growth with high interest rates. He backed keeping benchmark interest rates unchanged amid an emerging markets selloff that began after the Federal Reserve said it would ease monetary stimulus.
“As you know I’m allergic to interest,” Caglayan said Sept. 5. “I don’t think there’s any need for an increase to the benchmark interest rate.”
Guler, who served as a governor of Istanbul for seven years until 2010, became minister of interior in January. Photographs showing his son’s bedroom with several safes and a money- counting machine were publicized following his detention last week. Guler said his son moved the safes home after recently shutting down a business he owned because he is “stingy.”
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