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ANKARA, March 1 (Reuters) - The founder of Turkish conglomerate Dogan Holding was summoned on Wednesday to appear in court over fuel smuggling accusations, a day after Turkey’s president criticised its Hurriyet newspaper for a story suggesting discord between government and the army.
Aydin Dogan, 80, who ran the media-to-energy conglomerate until 2010 and is now honorary chairman, is a prominent figure in Turkey’s secular establishment and has long had strained ties with President Tayyip Erdogan and the ruling Islamist-rooted AK Party.
His group faces charges it ran a fuel-smuggling ring a decade ago and Dogan and Isbank’s Ersin Ozince, 64, face up to 24-1/2 years in prison on charges of setting up a criminal gang, smuggling and fraud.
This is the first time, however, that Dogan has been summoned to court in the case, rather than being represented by his lawyer. Dogan and Ozince have denied any wrongdoing.
The Istanbul court ordered that Dogan attend the next hearing in the case where 47 defendants are being tried, state-run Anadolu Agency said.
The group’s newspaper Hurriyet has come under fire for a Feb. 25 story saying the government had not sought the opinion of the army before lifting a ban on women wearing the headscarf - a symbol of Islamic piety - in the military.
The headline was seen as implying discord between the army and government - a matter of some sensitivity after a failed coup attempt last July by rogue officers - and was criticised by Erdogan on Tuesday.
His criticism sent shares in Hurriyet and Dogan Holding tumbling and they fell again on Wednesday with Dogan Holding down 4.2 percent and Hurriyet 1.4 percent lower. The court case covers the 2001-2008 period when Dogan Holding and Isbank owned stakes in Petrol Ofisi, Turkey’s biggest chain of gas stations, now operated by Austria’s OMV. The retailer is accused of avoiding customs taxes.
Erdogan has repeatedly accused Dogan Holding of bias against the government, which the media organisation denies. In 2009, Dogan Media was fined $2.5 billion for unpaid taxes, in what government opponents saw as an attempt to crush media criticism of Erdogan. Following the tax bill, founder Dogan was forced to sell the group’s Milliyet and Vatan newspapers, the Star TV channel and other holdings. (Reporting by Ece Toksabay; Additional reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by Ralph Boulton and Susan Fenton)