ISTANBUL — When an exiled Turkish mafia boss brought a series of charges last year against government-linked figures, including murder and drug trafficking, his claims captivated the public.
But months after posting the first of his videos online, Sedat Peker’s allegations have yet to be investigated by an official agency – an indication of the dire state of anti-corruption practices in Turkey, according to experts.
Transparency International, which monitors global corruption, reported last week that Turkey had fallen to 96th out of 180 countries in its Corruption Perceptions Index, scoring 38 out of 100 on a scale where a score of zero indicates a highly corrupt state. The world average is 43.
Turkey’s decline since 2012 – down 11 points – shows it is in “significant decline” in the fight against corruption, Transparency International said.
A country’s score is drawn from at least three data sources from various reputable institutions, such as the World Bank and the World Economic Forum.
“The most important factor behind Turkey’s so dramatic drop in the index is that there is now an environment in Turkey that allows for corruption and does not punish such incidents,” Turkey’s President of Turkey told Al-Monitor. Transparency, Oya Ozarslan.
Ozarslan added, “There are a few contributing factors to this, such as impunity for corruption-related crimes, distribution of public resources through the law on public tenders in a non-transparent manner, relations unrest between politics and business, pressure on the media and civil society, [not to mention] Corruption.”
“There have been so many claims and critical scandals in Turkey over the past two years, but the public has waited for their investigation in vain,” she said.
While petty corruption is believed to be on the decline due to the digitization of services such as tax payment and real estate transactions, large-scale misconduct is encouraged by a lack of legal vigor.
According to Ozarslan, “loopholes in public tender laws…open the door to grand corruption in areas where politics has a strong influence”.
According to the World Bank, five Turkish companies with close ties to the government are among the top 10 in the world for the level of public tenders they receive.
The opposition says this “gang of five” has benefited from winning contracts to build many Turkish mega-projects, including airports, bridges, hospitals and roads, as well as in other sectors such as energy.
They are also said to be making huge profits partly through preferential tax breaks, leaving the Turkish taxpayer to foot the bill. Meanwhile, the media arms of these companies continue to staunchly support the government.
The publication of the Pandora Papers last year showed that a construction giant was moving hundreds of millions of dollars through offshore companies.
Ronesans Holding, which completed a sprawling presidential palace in Ankara in 2014 as well as other major public projects, funneled the funds through entities in the name of billionaire owner Erman Ilicak’s mother.
Shortly after a company’s Swiss bank account received $105 million, a similar amount was paid to an unknown recipient as a “donation”.
“State capture in the Western Balkans and Turkey enriches politicians and their networks at the expense of ordinary citizens,” notes the Transparency report. “It also erodes public trust in government institutions as they are increasingly used to serve private interests.”
In other areas, Turkey has drawn international attention for its failure to tackle areas of corruption.
Last October, the Financial Action Task Force, set up by the G7 advanced economies to protect the global financial system, placed the country on its “grey list” for failing to tackle money laundering. and the financing of terrorism.
Although Ankara has taken steps to address some of these shortcomings, the European Commission has warned that a law based on the task force’s recommendations aimed at curbing the arms trade could threaten civil society groups.
Transparency has highlighted the links between corruption and attacks on democratic institutions and freedoms.
Two years ago, the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights called for the restoration of judicial independence in Turkey and an end to the targeting of human rights activists, lawyers and journalists through legal proceedings.
Since then, however, Turkey has faced sanctions for failing to implement the rulings of the European Court of Human Rights.
The independence of institutions such as the courts and the police from political control is key to defeating corruption, according to Ozarslan.
“Everywhere in the world you need political will first to defeat corruption,” she said. “We have to see this in Turkey. There should be a system that does not allow or tolerate corruption, so a change is needed.
She added: “The relationship between politics and business should be regulated and laws on political finance and political integrity should be enacted, which Turkey does not have at the moment. Above all, the independence of the judiciary must be guaranteed so as not to exert undue political influence on judges and prosecutors.