World Bulletin / News Desk
New details have emerged about Friday's operation into an elaborate bribery scheme at the customs department, where customs officials gathered illegal money requested from importing companies into a pool and systematically divvied up the illegal yields.
According to the newest findings, companies that refused to pay bribes were forced to keep their goods in customs depots and the items would not be released until the company cooperated, Cihan news agency said.
Investigators say customs officials, both chiefs and petty officers, kept goods from importing companies waiting at the red zone -- reserved for goods whose entry into Turkey are legal -- and only processed and moved these to the green zone when the company paid. Investigators say each customs official had a minimum “bribe quota” to fulfill, assigned to them by their superiors. The money collected by customs officials would then be allocated on a rank basis every week.
Thirty-five individuals serving at the İstanbul Customs Regional Directorate were detained on Friday in an investigation into bribery and corruption allegations at the customs department. The suspects include the chief director of the İstanbul Customs Regional Directorate, Lütfi Ekinci, who the investigators say was aware of this practice among his staff.
The center of the raids was İstanbul Atatürk Airport Customs and the Ambarlı Customs Zone, but the raids were staged simultaneously at 20 different addresses. Hayrettin Eker, the İstanbul Atatürk Airport Customs Directorate Cargo Terminal chief, and Smuggling Intelligence and Narcotic Department Chief Coşkun Cihanoğlu were also detained in the operation. Police seized documents and computers from the offices of the two men.
Investigators also claim that a customs official, referred to as “the bagman,” brought Ekinci his weekly share personally to his home.
Police also say Cihanoğlu was not facing bribery accusations, but of warning the suspects that there was a police investigation into their bribery scheme. He was detained on charges of aiding and abetting a criminal organization, police said.
State Minister in charge of Customs Departments Hayati Yazıcı, Customs Undersecretary Ziya Altunyaldız and Customs and Protection General Director Neşet Akkoç called an emergency meeting to evaluate the recent police operation.
No official details were available, but sources said the officials agreed to speed up the enactment of a bill that is currently under deliberation in the Parliamentary Budget and Planning Commission. The bill, titled the Draft Law on the Organization and Duties of the Customs Undersecretariat, will introduce drastic changes to the makeup of customs services in Turkey. Another decision taken in the meeting was to appoint new personnel in place of those who have been implicated in the scandal as soon as possible.
The 35 suspects detained in the investigation were still being questioned by the police.
Cigarettes, not lime powder
The police also established that the gang showed cigarettes and similar products subject to higher taxation as low-tax category goods on papers -- such as lime powder -- and simply placed the difference in taxes in its bribery pool. Other methods the gang relied on included filing tax refunds for goods that have not passed customs gates, and listing prices for electronic goods as much lower than the item's real worth and indicating a number or amount for items being imported as being less than the actual amount.
The investigators also say that the customs director gave a weekly allowance of TL 1,000 to his secretary, another finding of the investigation.
In related developments, the DHL transportation company released a statement, saying DHL has no connection to the ongoing operation, following news stories which claimed that DHL was connected to the investigation. The statement said not a single DHL official had been detained, nor any of the company's offices searched, during the operation, and that publications indicating otherwise were mistaken.
Director tells wife to bribe police
During the investigation, the police found that Hayrettin Eker had told his wife to “pay off and send them away,” referring to police officers who his wife said were at the door to take him. This conversation was captured on phone recordings monitored during the investigation.
Customs officials fine firms that refused to pay bribes
The center of the raids was İstanbul Atatürk Airport Customs and the Ambarlı Customs Zone, but the raids were staged simultaneously at 20 different addresses.
World Bulletin / News Desk