Ankara: Turkey`s parliament voted on Wednesday not to send to trial four former ministers accused of wrongdoing in a corruption investigation, in welcome news for President Tayyip Erdogan who had cast the graft scandal as a plot to undermine his rule.
The opposition and a corruption watchdog slammed the result as a further sign of deterioration in respect for the rule of law in European Union candidate Turkey after the graft probe targeting Erdogan`s inner circle became public in late 2013.
"Parliament has been seriously overshadowed. We feel uncomfortable about this. Parliament could have removed this stain," Kemal Kilicdaroglu, leader of the main opposition Republican People`s Party (CHP), told reporters after the vote.
The outcome, which was no surprise as the ruling AK Party has a big parliamentary majority, closes one of the last legal avenues in the probe. Earlier court cases have already been dropped.
It also spares the AKP a headache before a June parliamentary election which will be key to Erdogan`s ambition to boost the powers of the presidency.
The affair posed one of the biggest challenges to Erdogan during his decade as prime minister. Erdogan, who moved to the presidential palace last year, viewed the probe as a bid by his former ally, U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, to overthrow him. The cleric has denied the accusation.
"It has been put on record with this decision that this was a coup attempt," Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told reporters in London when asked about the votes.
The tally of the votes indicated some 40 AKP deputies had supported sending the former ministers for trial. Davutoglu said this showed the party respected the legal process.
Anti-graft group Transparency International said the outcome would contribute to a culture of impunity for politicians.
"(It) will only reinforce the growing global perception that corruption is a major problem in Turkey," Oya Ozarslan, chair of Transparency International Turkey, said in a written statement.
"The way this investigation has been carried out, with constant political interference with, and sometimes outright harassment of, judiciary and media raises a big question mark about the government’s will to tackle corruption."
The probe prompted the resignation of the economy, interior and urbanisation ministers. EU Minister Egemen Bagis lost his post in a subsequent reshuffle. All four denied wrongdoing.
Erdogan fought back by reassigning thousands of police and hundreds of judges and prosecutors deemed loyal to Gulen and enacting laws boosting government influence over the judiciary.