Turkey detains 34 customs officials over bribery probe

Investigators say the operations will extend to the companies that were involved in the customs bribery scheme.

Turkey detains 34 customs officials over bribery probe

World Bulletin / News Desk

Thirty-four individuals serving at the İstanbul Customs Regional Directorate have been detained in a major investigation into bribery and corruption allegations at the customs department.

The suspects include the chief director of the İstanbul Customs Regional Directorate.

The operation was carried out on Friday.

The allegations against the suspects include the collection of money paid in bribes in a pool and then the distribution of this money to İstanbul customs officials every Friday on the basis of rank and seniority. The investigators claim Chief Director Lütfi Ekinci was aware of this practice among his staff. Ekinci was detained in Mersin, where he was vacationing in his summerhouse.

The suspects allegedly relied on three methods to take bribes from companies importing goods to Turkey.

One was to force companies that had all their documents in order to give money, calling this a “donation.” The other method was showing the value of an imported good to be nine-tenths less than the actual value on paper. In other words, an item that would normally cost TL 10 would be recorded as costing TL 1. A third method the officials used was falsifying documents and showing those products that are subject to higher taxes -- such as cigarettes -- as if they belong in another taxation category. The difference would be taken by the customs officials and added to the bribery pool. Investigators estimate the amount channeled into the bribe fund was TL 200 million.

The detentions, and the arrests which will follow, are the culmination of a six-month investigation launched by the İstanbul Police Department's financial crimes unit after the police were tipped off about cigarettes being smuggled into Turkey through China and Dubai following recent increases in taxes on cigarettes. In the course of this investigation, detectives were able to map out the routes smugglers used to bring in not only cigarettes, but also textiles and digital cameras.

The police closely monitored the movement of the oft-smuggled goods to foil a highly organized cycle of bribery at customs. The companies' names would change, but the actual people doing business would remain the same, the investigation established. The police finally launched an operation of Friday based on information uncovered during the financial crimes unit's investigation that customs officials were allowing bribery, procedural violations and smuggling at customs transit zones. The raid was specially scheduled for Friday, the day when the bribery pool is allegedly divvied up among the officers.

The center of the raids was the 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. Documents and computers in the offices of the two men were seized by the police.

The police found TL 20,000 inside an envelope in Eker's office. A total of TL 150,000 was found on other customs officials detained in the operation, which the investigators claim was taken in bribes.

The police estimate the loss to the state caused by the customs bribery scheme at around TL 200 million; however, they say this figure is likely to grow as past transaction records are still being investigated. To make this point clearer, the detectives note that in just one shipment, 555 Nikon SLR digital cameras ranging in price between $200 and $5,000 were recorded on paper to cost $100 each.

Investigators say the operations will extend to the companies that were involved in the customs bribery scheme.

Last Mod: 10 Ocak 2011, 10:50
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