Corruption Investigation in Turkey Produces First Arrests

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
ISTANBUL — A fast-moving corruption investigation that is encircling the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan gained momentum on Friday with the first formal arrests in the case, including the seizing of the brother of an Istanbul district mayor suspected of taking bribes.
The government responded with its own counterstroke, dismissing 14 more high-ranking police officials as it continues to purge the state of those it believes are pushing the investigation, which Mr. Erdogan and his top party officials consider a plot.

The investigation is widely regarded as being controlled by followers of Fethullah Gulen, a powerful Muslim preacher who lives in Pennsylvania and commands a network of businessmen, media outlets and schools as well as officials within Turkey’s police and judiciary.

The case, which has riveted the country and dominated the newspaper headlines and television talk shows all week, also played out in smaller ways on Friday: Turkish Airlines, which is partly owned by the state, reportedly removed from its flights newspapers that are affiliated with Mr. Gulen.

The corruption inquiry has ensnared sons of government ministers, municipal workers and businessmen, including a powerful construction tycoon. The moves on Friday — by Mr. Erdogan’s government and his Justice and Development Party to contain the investigation, and by prosecutors and the police to advance it — came as Turkey braced for a cabinet reshuffle that some opposition lawmakers demanded and that the local news media suggested was imminent.

The investigation began Tuesday morning with a series of raids on the offices of businessmen and others close to the governing party. Mr. Erdogan’s government says it is a plot against its rule by a “criminal gang” within the state and has swiftly responded by purging senior police officials who have led the investigation.

On Thursday, the Istanbul police chief, Huseyin Capkin, was fired, and at least 34 officers have been dismissed or transferred by the Interior Ministry this week. In addition to the 14 police officials who took part in the dawn raids and were dismissed on Friday, the deputy chief of the Financial Investigation Commission was discharged.

Mr. Erdogan called the investigation a foreign-backed plot to topple his government ahead of a crucial election year and said those behind it were trying to form “a state within a state,” an indirect reference to Mr. Gulen and his network of followers who have positions in the government.

Mr. Gulen, who rarely gives interviews, released a statement through his lawyer denying any involvement in the investigation.

Mr. Erdogan held several closed-door meetings in Ankara on Friday that were expected to lead to an announcement of an expansive cabinet reshuffling in coming days, according to Turkish news media reports. His intervention in the inquiry has drawn criticism even from within the Justice and Development Party, suggesting that the Islamist-rooted faction is at risk of breaking away just before the series of elections scheduled over the next 18 months.

In another move familiar to Turks in times of crisis, an influential journalist who had been critical of the government has lost her job. Nazli Ilicak, a veteran journalist, was fired from the pro-government newspaper Sabah after she called on government ministers involved in the inquiry to give up their posts.

Turkey has frequently been criticized globally for its crackdown on the news media, and this week, for the second year in a row, the Committee to Protect Journalists identified the country as the No. 1 jailer of journalists. Last summer, during sweeping antigovernment protests that began as opposition to an urban development project in Istanbul, dozens of journalists lost their jobs.

And in a business deal that was long in the works, but that nevertheless underscored the close relations between Mr. Erdogan and powerful media and construction bosses, Sabah was sold Friday by one construction company with ties to the prime minister to another.

The newspaper had been owned by a company whose chief executive is Mr. Erdogan’s son-in-law, and on Friday it was sold to Kalyon Insaat, another company that has close links to the governing party and that is behind several development projects in Istanbul.

Tim Arango contributed reporting.