ANKARA Turkish lawmakers on Monday voted to set up a commission to investigate alleged corruption by former ministers, but critics warned the ruling party would use its parliamentary majority to dictate the outcome of the probe.
The government of Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan has been dogged by graft allegations for months after scores of people - including government officials and the sons of three then-ministers - were detained by police in December.
Erdogan has rejected accusations of wrongdoing, framing the graft probe as an attempt to unseat him by members of the police and judiciary loyal to his one-time ally and now bitter rival, U.S.-based Islamic cleric, Fetullah Gulen.
During a lengthy parliamentary debate, members of the ruling AK Party said parliament would get to the bottom of allegations, including that government officials accepted bribes and had links with a criminal ring smuggling gold into Iran.
"We are in no doubt about ourselves. Let everything be investigated, let all dimensions become clear. No one can cover up these allegations. Whatever needs to be done is being done legally," senior AK lawmaker Nurettin Canikli said of the commission, which could take up to four months.
The former ministers of economy, interior and urbanization resigned after the scandal broke, and the European Union Affairs Minister Egemen Bagis lost his post in a reshuffle. All four have denied wrongdoing.
During Monday's debate, Bagis again denied the charges and suggested that Gulen's followers had concocted the charges.
"I was the target of a systematic accusations by a desperate organization willing to do anything to achieve its goals."
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The allegations take the form of a 300-page police file, which was originally presented to parliament in March by the opposition in a failed bid to have potentially incendiary details brought to light under parliamentary privilege in the run-up to a crucial local election.
The delay in debating the issue has taken much of the political sting out of the scandal, particularly as Erdogan's AK Party went on to score a big victory at those polls.
An official from the leading opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) said a parliamentary commission was not sufficient and accused the government of attempting to bury the charges.
"This issue will definitely be brought to the Supreme Court some day. The corruption will not be covered up," CHP lawmaker Akif Hamzacebi said before the motion was passed.
The opposition accused the government of censoring the debate after coverage was suspended by state television TRT, which normally airs parliamentary sessions but said it would instead broadcast a sports program during the slot.
A CHP lawmaker recorded the often raucous debate on a handheld device to stream it via a website.
Since December, Erdogan has responded to the scandal by purging the police and judiciary, reassigning thousands of officers and hundreds of judges and prosecutors, and bringing investigations to a virtual standstill.
Prosecutors last week threw out cases against 60 suspects, including the son of one of the ex-ministers.
Fadi Hakura, Turkey analyst for the London-based think tank Chatham House, doubted the commission would form the basis of a robust investigation into the allegations.
"Essentially, the government has a majority in parliament and so therefore can dictate what transpires out of these investigative committees," he said.
"The only occasion where these allegations may be investigated is if a new government from another party takes over in Turkey."
(Writing by Jonny Hogg and Ayla Jean Yackley; Editing by Tom Heneghan)