ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Istanbul's most senior police official was dismissed Thursday, days after police launched raids that detained dozens of people. The massive corruption and bribery investigation has ensnared the sons of three government ministers, threatening Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's government as elections approach.
Police Chief Huseyin Capkin confirmed to journalists that he had been removed from his post and recalled to the capital, Ankara.
The government has dismissed dozens of other police officials in Ankara and Istanbul — including some who oversaw the police raids and investigation — raising criticism from opposition parties that Erdogan's Islamic-based government was attempting to cover up a scandal.
Police detained 51 people for questioning on Tuesday, including the CEO of a state-owned bank and the mayor of an Istanbul district that is an Erdogan stronghold. Nine of them were released without charges Wednesday after questioning.
Erdogan insists the probe is a conspiracy to harm his government's reputation and has promised to go after the forces he says have instigated the plot. His government, now into its 11th year in power, has won three successive elections on the strength of Turkey's relatively robust economy and partly by portraying a clean image.
Turkey will hold local elections in March, which are being seen as a vote of confidence in the government.
The government promised Wednesday it would not impede the investigation, despite the police officials' removal. The government has also appointed two new prosecutors to lead the investigation, saying they would ease the burden of the probe.
Many believe the corruption probe was instigated by a movement led by an influential U.S.-based Turkish Muslim cleric, which once supported Erdogan's government but now appears to be in a dispute with the Turkish leader. The movement is reported to have a strong influence within Turkey's police and judiciary.
The cleric, Fetullah Gulen, however has denied that he was behind the investigation targeting Erdogan's allies.