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Monday, May 29, 2023
ISTANBUL, Dec 24 1996 (IPS) - Turkey has declared war on the corruption which authorities say permeates the casino gambling industry, netting tourists, locals and corrupt police — and putting some 20,000 jobs at risk.
But critics say the action ordered by deputy Prime Minister Tansau Ciller, involving the closure of all casinos, is motivated by political considerations rather than moral, legal or economic objectives.
At the time the closure was announced, on Dec. 17, casino owners were involved in talks with the government about imposing tighter controls, including taxation and limits on the number of casinos and their location.
Some commentators have suggested there may be a connection between the government’s action and newspaper claims that Ciller’s husband, Ozer, was implicated in the fatal shooting of Turkey’s ‘Casino King’ Omer Lutfi Topal.
Topal was killed in July in Istanbul by three members of the Special Police Force. Opposition leader Mesut Yilmaz of the Motherland Party (ANAP) said the murder was part of a battle for control of the casino industry.
Ertugrul Ozkok editor in chief of the mainstream daily Hurriyet wrote last Wednesday that Topal had acquired plots of land sold by the Maritime Administration in Istanbul’s summer resort of Kilyos adjacent to property owned by the Cillers.
“Why should Topal buy those plots if he had not been informed of the government schemes of shifting the casino industry to Kilyos?” Ozkok asks.
Tourism Minsiter Bahattin Yucel told journalists: “We will discuss the matter in the cabinet and finally decide the issue in the parliament.”
In September, a Turkish Intelligence Organisation (MIT) report leaked to the media named Ciller and former Interior Minister Mehmet Agar as having operated a secret “parallel” secret force inside the national security organisation.
In early November, three individuals named by the report — neo- fascist ganglord Abdullah Catli, top anti-terrorist policeman Huseyin Kocadag and a pro-state Kurdish chieftain and member of Ciller’s own party called Sedat Bucak — were found in the same car after an accident.
Since then the opposition has charged Ciller and her family with having close links to a massive network of corrupt security officers and organised crime. However, the deputy prime minister has escaped parliamentary inquiry because of her coalition deal with Islamist Welfare Party leader Nemettin Erbakan, the current premier.
The three special police team members were arrested and interrogated by former Istanbul police chief Kemal Yazicioglu. They reportedly admitted having committed the crime. But the three were released under orders from former Interior Minister Mehmet Agar who recently confirmed that he made the order.
Yilmaz charges that the Ciller family and Agar had set up their “private gang” within the security services and justified this action as part of efforts to “combat terrorism” through “unconventional methods”.
“These groups are financed by underground resources and most of the ‘mystery killings’ in recent years are committed by them during the fight to gain the control on casino and drug traficcking revenues,” Yilmaz claims.
“The special police force members admitted during interrogation in the Istanbul police department that they had killed Topal under orders from some very important names,” says ANAP leader Mesut Yilmaz.
Media reports leaked from security sources says among Topal’s assassins was mafia gunman Abdullah Catli, who lost his life in the November car accident.
Mehmet Agar was forced to resign soon after the accident when his links with mafia gunmen came under public discussion.
Tourism minister Bahattin Yucel, explaining the justification for closing the casinos said they were not as big foreign exchange earners as previously thought. In fact, he said, they were mostly frequented by Turkish citizens. “This undermines public morals and damages social values.”
Efforts to impose tighter regulations on casinos was interpreted by adversaries as an attempt to hand over the revenues from certain groups to others.
“However this is not true and the tax incomes gained from casinos are not as much as they are claimed to be. In 1995 the casinos paid 774.7 million dollars as income tax what is much less than expected. They were expected to promote overseas tourist incomes, however greater part of their revenues are gained from Turkish citizens.”
“We will discuss the matter in the cabinet and then move a draft legislation,” Yucel said Thursday.
However his predecessor Abdulkadir Ates of the opposition CHP (Republican People’s Party) says there is no need for special legislation. “They could be closed by a decree by the Tourism Minister just as they were opened,” he said Thursday in a public statement.
“If they were really determined to close the casinos, this would not need a prolonged dispute. Even this situation shows that Ciller’s position is not linked with matters of principle, but something else.”
Erhan Akbulut, chair of “Casino Owners Association” however insists the sector has no part whatsoever in “money laundering.”
“The sector altogether employs 20,000 people, who will be inevitably laid-off if the government finally decides the casinos’ closure,” he warns. “The overall annual turnover arising from the sector is around two billion dollars, Turkey cannot and must not refuse such a serious economic source.”
However, the casinos are seemingly coming closer to their end as the Islamist senior coalition Refah Party deputies are more than willing to vote ‘yes’ should Tansu Ciller’s DYP move the draft.
“We are determined to finally ban gambling when we will come to power alone in next general elections,” the spokesperson of the Refah Party told journalists.
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