Turkey has ‘systematically failed to detect foreign bribery’: OECD report

A recent Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) report published on June 20 raised significant concerns about Turkey’s enforcement of laws penalizing foreign bribery, highlighting systemic failures in detecting and prosecuting cases, Turkish Minute reported.

The report, released by the OECD Working Group on Bribery in International Business Transactions, outlines Turkey’s poor track record since its last evaluation in 2014 and emphasizes issues related to judicial independence and press freedom.

Foreign bribery involves companies offering, promising or giving bribes to foreign public officials to gain advantages in international business transactions. These advantages can include securing construction contracts, obtaining oil or gas concessions or acquiring operating licenses. This illegal practice is particularly prevalent in industries such as construction, mining, defense and military, natural resources and energy, medical and pharmaceutical, telecommunications, transportation, infrastructure projects and property development.

According to the report, despite Turkey becoming a party to the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention in 2000, it has not secured a single conviction for foreign bribery. Out of 23 known allegations involving Turkish individuals or companies, nearly two-thirds have not been investigated, and none of the remaining cases have led to prosecution. The report also reveals that no legal entity has been held accountable for either foreign or domestic bribery in 15 years.

Judicial and prosecutorial independence remains a significant concern. The Council of Judges and Prosecutors (CJP), responsible for judicial appointments and disciplinary actions, is criticized for its lack of independence, with all members selected by Turkey’s executive and political branches. This has raised fears of political and executive influence over judicial decisions, undermining the necessary independence for effective anti-bribery enforcement.

Further compounding the issue, the report notes that large numbers of judges and prosecutors have been suspended, transferred, detained or dismissed without sufficient evidence of wrongdoing or due process. These actions, central to the operations of the CJP, have been seen as serious infringements on judicial independence and have adversely affected the effectiveness of foreign bribery investigations and prosecutions.

Turkey’s backsliding with regard to judicial independence started in late 2013, when Turkey was shaken by two corruption investigations implicating then-prime minister and current president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s inner circle.

Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) government subsequently suppressed the corruption scandal by managing to control the judiciary by creating special criminal courts headed by a single judge, thanks to the AKP’s parliamentary majority.

These judges then jailed all the police and prosecutors who had conducted the 2013 corruption investigations, while Erdoğan and his family members who were implicated have never appeared in court.

The erosion in the rule of law in Turkey worsened after a failed coup in July 2016, when more than 4,000 judges and prosecutors were removed under the pretext of an anti-coup fight.

The AKP government is accused of replacing the purged judicial members with young and inexperienced judges and prosecutors who have close links to the AKP.

The OECD examiners also said concerns about fighting foreign bribery are “exacerbated by the large number of recently hired and hence inexperienced judges and prosecutors in the judiciary.”

In a development that confirmed the erosion of the Turkish judiciary, Turkey was ranked 117th among 142 countries in the rule of law index published by the World Justice Project (WJP) in late October, dropping one place in comparison to last year.

Press freedom, a crucial element for the detection and reporting of foreign bribery, is also highlighted as a significant concern. The OECD report criticizes the lack of media freedom in Turkey, pointing out that censorship and restrictions on investigative journalism hinder the detection of foreign bribery cases. The role of the media in uncovering such crimes is crucial, and the report calls for the full application of constitutional and legal protections for press freedom to ensure allegations of foreign bribery can be reported and investigated.

Rights groups routinely accuse Turkey of undermining media freedom by arresting journalists and shutting down critical media outlets, especially since President Erdoğan survived a failed coup in July 2016.

Turkey, which has been suffering from a poor record of freedom of the press for years, ranks 158th among 180 countries in RSF’s World Press Freedom Index published on May 3 on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day.

Additionally, the OECD report criticizes the lack of a national strategy to combat foreign bribery, despite Turkey’s significant economic size and its exposure to high-risk sectors such as defense and construction. Key government bodies, including the ministries of justice, foreign affairs and treasury and finance, have not raised awareness of foreign bribery within the private sector or promoted anti-corruption compliance programs. This failure is particularly concerning given the continued expansion of Turkish companies in high-risk sectors and countries with high perceived levels of corruption.

The OECD report includes several recommendations for Turkey to enhance its enforcement of laws penalizing foreign bribery. These recommendations emphasize the need for a comprehensive national strategy, improved judicial independence and greater press freedom. Turkey is expected to report back to the OECD in June 2026 on its progress in implementing these recommendations and its foreign bribery enforcement efforts.

Over the past several years Turkey has been suffering from a deteriorating economy, with high inflation and unemployment as well as a poor human rights record. President Erdoğan is criticized for mishandling the economy, emptying the state’s coffers and establishing one-man rule in the country where dissent is suppressed and opponents are jailed on politically motivated charges.

Erdoğan and his party are also widely criticized for filling state posts with their cronies and disregarding merit-based appointments.

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