Turkey’s prosecutors have issued arrest warrants for at least 380 businessmen and detained two senior officials from one of the country’s biggest conglomerates in an escalating crackdown on businesspeople suspected of having links to a U.S.-based Islamic cleric whom the government accused of orchestrating a failed coup last summer.
The businessmen face accusations of financially supporting the network of Fethullah Gulen, who lives in Pennsylvania in a self-imposed exile. In a separate move, the Turkish police also detained top legal advisor and former chief executive of Dogan Holding, one of the leading business conglomerates that owns Hurriyet newspaper, the Dogan news agency, and CNN Turk broadcasting channel.
The company said the police targeted homes and offices of Chief Legal Officer Erem Turgut Yucel and former CEO Yahya Uzdiyen, noting that the detentions did not affect the operations of the business group.
Dogan shares initially dropped as much as 9.9 percent after the market opened, and were down almost 5 percent by 1145 GMT in high-volume trading, Reuters reported. Hurriyet’s shares also fell, as much as 7.6 percent.
The detentions of the two were linked to the arrest of Dogan Holding’s Ankara representative Barbaros Muratoglu, the company said in a statement. He was also being investigated for ties to Gulen.
Aydin Dogan, the founder of the Dogan Group, rejected accusations and defended his employees. He regarded ‘Gulen link’ charges ludicrous and deemed police raid as “against conscience and common sense.”
Dogan Group, which has interests in energy, media, and real estate, also runs Trump Towers in a busy commercial district of Istanbul. The detentions represent a new chapter in the history of long-running feuds between President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Dogan.
Dogan belongs to Turkey’s secular establishment in the business world and has had testy, strained relations with Erdogan’s government. His once-feared media empire now shrinks to a few media outlets, reduced to its former shadow after facing 3.8 billion dollars tax fine over irregularities in his business deals. Observers believe that the hefty punishment was politically-motivated and aimed to curb Dogan’s sway in the media. Though the tax penalty was removed later, Dogan still reduced his presence in the media.
“The detentions suggest the scope of these probes are widening,” Haydar Acun, managing partner of Marmara Capital in Istanbul, told Bloomberg. “Uncertainty is getting higher.”
Dogan, a master of withering political crises to maintain his presence in fragile media sector over the past decades, tried to budge line of its outlets in line with government’s whims. A leaked audio tape late last year revealed how the media mogul urged its editors to tone down their criticism of the government as a survival strategy in the media business.
He hired pro-government editors and columnists to avoid the wrath of Erdogan as one of his mildly critical columnists attacked by government supporters and its office in Istanbul came under attack last year.
The fortune of Dogan group poised to have changed positively since an abortive coup as the group’s flagship news channel, CNN Turk, provided a once-in-a-lifetime chance to President Erdogan to connect via FaceTime to the studio to make his historic call to people to confront putschists. That proved to be critical to swing the pendulum to his favor during delicate moments of the coup attempt.
Hurriyet is one of the key elements of mainstream Turkish media. Given the history of feuds and long-standing quarrels between Dogan Group and Erdogan, the latest detentions are seen as another attempt to stifle critical and independent journalism that Hurriyet may provide at a time as the majority of Turkish media is either cowed or forced to toe in line with the government.
Erdogan’s obsession with the Dogan group is not new. Back in 1998, when Erdogan was jailed and banned from doing politics, Hurriyet ran a headline that the president still cannot forgive. He continues recalling the newspaper’s infamous headline (“He [Erdogan] cannot even be a village head”) as an indication that he “fought his way through [negative] headlines” to climb the political ladder. The president is so obsessed with Hurriyet’s that headline, he frequently convenes hundreds of village heads to his sumptuous palace in Ankara (He convened 33rd of such meeting earlier this week). One village head who refused to attend was pressed charges over insulting the president.
Hurriyet, along with other Dogan-linked publications, was also key in publishing stories that tarnished the reputation of the government led by late Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan. The media crusade against Erbakan’s government was eventually followed by the army to force the government to resign.
A few years back, Turkish authorities have launched a series of investigations to probe actors who participated in that military coup in 1997. Dogan, fearing that he is next in line, immediately asked Donald J. Trump to lease his name and opened twin towers in Istanbul. He invited Erdogan to cut the ribbon.