Turkish media mogul Dogan summoned to court over fuel smuggling

ANKARA (Reuters) - The honorary chairman of Turkish conglomerate Dogan Holding was summoned on Wednesday to appear in court over accusations of fuel smuggling, a day after Turkey’s president criticized a story published in the group’s Hurriyet newspaper.

File photo: Turkish publisher Aydin Dogan holds the Victoria award during a ceremony at the Publishers Night in Berlin November 17, 2008. REUTERS/Hannibal Hanschke

Aydin Dogan, 80, who founded and ran media-to-energy conglomerate until 2010, is a prominent figure in Turkey’s secular establishment and has had strained ties with President Tayyip Erdogan and the ruling Islamist-rooted AK Party in the past.

His group has faced charges that 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 be compelled to 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 the head scarf in the military.

The headline was seen as implying discord between the army and government and was criticized by Erdogan on Tuesday, sending shares in Hurriyet and Dogan Holding tumbling.

The shares fell further 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 organization denies.

Aydin Dogan has dismissed the oil smuggling case, saying it lacked reason and legal basis.

Reporting by Ece Toksabay; editing by Ralph Boulton and Susan Fenton