Turkey's top judicial body suspends graft probe prosecutors: agency

ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Turkey’s top judicial body has suspended four prosecutors who initiated a corruption investigation that targeted the inner circle of President Tayyip Erdogan, Dogan news agency reported on Tuesday.

The probe, which became public with raids on Dec. 17 last year, led to the resignation of three ministers and prompted Erdogan to purge the state apparatus, reassigning thousands of police and hundreds of judges and prosecutors.

Zekeriya Oz, Istanbul’s former deputy chief prosecutor, and three other prosecutors who worked on the corruption probe were taken off the case weeks after the police raids in which dozens were detained, including the children of former ministers.

New prosecutors were assigned following their removal and dropped the charges in October.

Erdogan portrayed the corruption scandal, which posed one of the biggest challenges to his more than decade-long leadership, as a coup attempt orchestrated by his former ally, U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, to undermine his rule.

In July, the High Council of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK) launched an investigation into the work of the four prosecutors facing accusations including making political comments on Twitter and detaining suspects without concrete information.

They will remain suspended until the investigation is completed, Dogan said on Tuesday.

“This is not a legal decision, it’s a political decision. The reason for this decision is that we stood by the law in the face of politicians. The HSYK didn’t even ask to hear my defense. There has been no such example in the history of the board,” Oz tweeted.

“The decision is a clear blow to the judiciary’s independence, a rehearsal for the transition to a political judiciary. I will appeal the decision,” Oz said.

Separately, a journalist was detained by the police over comments made on Twitter regarding the corruption scandal in which she gave a prosecutor’s name and picture, local media reported. Police carried out a search in her home.

Her tweets were no longer public and could not be verified.

Kabas was released several hours later after being questioned by the court. Kabas’ lawyer said she told the court that she had no intention of making graft inquiry prosecutors a target, Dogan news agency reported.

But her arrest raised concerns among Erdogan’s opponents who accuse him of growing increasingly authoritarian. The Turkish leader’s reaction to the graft inquiry -- tightening control of the Internet, banning Twitter for two weeks and carrying out a purge in the bureaucracy -- has drawn international criticism.

He has also pushed for new legislation which has brought HSYK, the body responsible for appointments, transfers, expulsions and promotions of the country’s top judicial figures, under the control of the justice minister.

The council had been seen by Erdogan and his supporters, as a body where Gulen devotees wielded influence over the judicial process. In an October election, government-backed candidates won most seats in HSYK.

Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk and Ece Toksabay; Additional reporting by Gulsen Solaker; Editing by Dasha Afanasieva and Ralph Boulton