Ankara: Turkish police detained the sons of three cabinet ministers and several high-profile businessmen on Tuesday in a sweeping probe into alleged bribery and corruption that sent shock waves across the country.
The dawn raids targeted 37 people in Turkey`s largest city Istanbul and the capital Ankara suspected of fraud or bribery in connection with public tenders for construction projects, media reports said.
Istanbul governor Huseyin Avni Mutlu confirmed the operation but declined to comment on the details.
"There is an ongoing operation," he told reporters. "It would not be proper to make a statement while the investigation is under way."
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan`s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), which boasts of being pro-business, has pledged to root out corruption, a chronic problem in Turkey particularly in the booming construction industry.
But some political observers speculated that the raids stemmed from simmering tensions between Erdogan`s Islamic-rooted government and influential Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen which have burst out into the open ahead of elections next year.
Those detained include the sons of Interior Minister Muammer Guler, Economy Minister Zafer Caglayan and Environment Minister Erdogan Bayraktar.
The suspects also include well-known businessmen and bureaucrats including the chief executive of Turkish state bank Halkbank Suleyman Aslan and construction tycoon Ali Agaoglu, local media reported.
Both Guler and Caglayan cancelled their official programmes for today after their sons were taken in, according to press reports.
The suspects are accused of accepting and facilitating bribes for some projects and getting construction permits for protected areas in exchange for money, the Hurriyet newspaper reported.
It said the raids were the result of a year-long surveillance operation.
In a speech after the police operation, Erdogan vowed he would not bow to any "threat" or "dirty alliances" aimed at ruffling the feathers of his party, although it was not clear if he was referring to the movement led by exiled cleric Gulen.
"We will not bow to any threat as long as you stand behind us," he said in the central Anatolian city of Konya, a conservative AKP bastion.
"Turkey is not a banana republic or a third class tribal state... Nobody inside or outside my country can stir up or trap my country."