Five Turkish police chiefs have been dismissed after dozens of people including sons of cabinet ministers were detained in a high-profile probe into bribery and fraud, media reports say.
The police raids on Tuesday and the subsequent sackings have highlighted deep rifts in Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s support base ahead of key elections in Turkey next year.
The operation sent shockwaves across the country and prompted calls from opposition parties for the resignation of the entire government.
“This is the biggest scandal in the history of the republic,” said Engin Altay of the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP).
“The prime minister must resign.”
At least 50 people were detained in the dawn raids suspected of numerous offences including accepting and facilitating bribes for development projects and securing construction permits for protected areas in exchange for money, as well as gold smuggling and money laundering, according to press reports.
The sons of Interior Minister Muammer Guler, Economy Minister Zafer Caglayan and Environment Minister Erdogan Bayraktar were detained along with well-known businessmen and bureaucrats including the chief executive of Turkish state bank Halkbank, Suleyman Aslan, and construction tycoon Ali Agaoglu.
Police have declined to comment on the sackings or the raids, which were said to be the result of a year-long surveillance operation.
There is speculation the investigation may be linked to a very public dispute between Erdogan’s government and a former ally, the influential Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen.
Gulen lives in exile in the United States, but wields considerable influence in several arms of Turkey’s state apparatus including the police, secret services and the judiciary and also runs a network of private schools.
The Gulen movement was a key supporter of Erdogan’s Islamic-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP), helping it to win three elections in a row since 2002.
But government plans unveiled last month to close down a network of private schools run by Gulen’s Hizmet movement appear to have shattered the alliance.