ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkey’s military said on Thursday it had filed a criminal complaint over court cases involving members of the armed forces, a move which could pave the way for the retrial of hundreds of officers convicted on coup plot charges.
Turkey’s appeals court in October upheld the convictions of top retired officers for leading a plot to overthrow Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan’s government a decade ago, a case which underlined civilian dominance over a once all-powerful army.
The complaint comes as Erdogan’s government is weakened by a wide-ranging corruption investigation which has led to the resignation of three members of his cabinet and highlighted concern about the independence of the judiciary.
The Hurriyet newspaper said the military’s complaint argued that evidence in the cases against serving and retired officers had been fabricated. A spokesman for the military’s General Staff confirmed that an official complaint had been sent to the Ankara prosecutor’s office but gave no further details.
“If the complaint is accepted, a retrial will be a certainty,” said Haluk Peksen, one of the defence lawyers in the trial of more than 300 officers sentenced in 2012 over the “Sledgehammer” conspiracy, said to have included plans to bomb Istanbul mosques and trigger an army takeover.
Erdogan has cast the corruption scandal which erupted last month as a foreign-backed plot to undermine him, and has responded by purging some 70 police officers connected with the inquiry and blocking a second investigation into major infrastructure projects.
The military’s move comes just over a week after Erdogan’s top political adviser, Yalcin Akdogan, stirred controversy by suggesting that the government and armed forces had both been victims of similar conspiracies involving the judiciary.
“Those who plot against their own country’s national army ... and a civil administration which has won its way into the people’s heart, know very well they are not doing something for the good of this country,” Akdogan wrote in a column in the Star newspaper on December 24.
Erdogan’s backers accuse Fethullah Gulen, a U.S.-based Turkish cleric with strong influence in the police and judiciary and a former ally of the prime minister, of connivance in the corruption investigations. Gulen denies the allegation.
Erdogan’s Islamist-rooted AK Party is widely held to have relied on Gulen’s influence in breaking the power of the army - which carried out three coups between 1960 and 1980 and forced an Islamist-led government from power in 1997 - including by pursuing suspected coup plotters through the courts.
Defence lawyers for army officers saw Akdogan’s comments as an admission that their clients had been victims of a conspiracy and have called for a retrial. Akdogan later said his comments had been misconstrued and did not refer to any specific trial.
Additional reporting by Asli Kandemir in Istanbul; Writing by Nick Tattersall; Editing by Alison Williams