Bipartisan Policy Center: Corruption becomes policy instrument in Erdoğan’s Turkey

Corruption has become an instrument of policy and rule in the hands of Turkish autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) government, according to a report released by US-based Bipartisan Policy Center, a centrist think-tank founded by former Republican senator Howard Baker.

According to the report written by Blaise Misztal, Nick Danforth, Jessica Michek and Ryan Gingeras, the corruption as an instrument of policy in Turkey has been undermining decades of US-Turkish cooperation in the realms of international law enforcement and counter-terrorism.

“The case of Reza Zarrab and his co-conspirators, who all stand accused of violating US sanctions law, has profound implications for the future of Turkish-American relations. Any conviction or plea agreement reached will represent official confirmation that the government of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan willfully engaged in systemic corruption for political and economic gain as part of a policy that also undermined NATO alliance goals,” said the report.

According to the report, even if the US federal prosecutors were to abandon the case, there are multiple signs that suggest that Washington’s ability to cooperate with Turkey on certain security matters has been fundamentally compromised. Increasingly, Ankara seems intent on fostering conditions that, either inadvertently or by design, harm the broader regional security architecture that the United States and Turkey once worked together to build.

The report said that one may look at the Zarrab case as symptomatic of a much larger crisis, one greater than any attempt to impose sanctions on Iran. “There are several trends in modern Turkey that suggest that corruption, particularly in matters of economy and commerce, has become an instrument of policy and rule in the hands of Erdoğan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP),” underlined the report.

“This increasingly corrupt system of government comes after decades of joint US-Turkish efforts to form a strong, working relationship on issues related to cooperative international law enforcement. The consequences of this breakdown are diverse and potentially severe,” stated the report and continued “Turkey’s increasingly subversive posturing on international law and security poses a direct threat to US efforts to combat transnational crime and terrorism on multiple fronts.”

The report has also cited a 2015 Turkish law change that allowed visitors to Turkey to bring in unlimited amounts of cash without declaring it at the border and the increasing politicisation of Turkey’s police force and judiciary as warning signs that indicated that the environment was becoming even more conducive to corrupt practices – and also, inadvertently, to terrorism and organised crime.

In that sense, the Zarrab case might be the start of a trend. “Regardless of the outcome of the Zarrab case, it is possible that there are similar sanction-busting schemes looming,” said the report. “Recent news reports documenting several spikes in gold trading between Turkey and the United Arab Emirates have drawn suspicions that a comparable gold-for-oil scheme may be in the offing,” it said.

Finally, the report has argued that an increase in corruption leaves Erdoğan’s government more fragile both internally and externally. “Should the AKP government collapse due to the deterioration of its institutions and credibility, the impact on the Middle East and regional peace will be devastating,” said the report.

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