Parliament duel fails to live up to expectations

September 26, 2008 at 8:56 am Leave a comment

Justice and Development Party (AK Party) Deputy Chairman Dengir Mir Mehmet Fırat and Republican People’s Party’s (CHP) parliamentary group deputy chairman Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu met in front of hundreds of thousands of television viewers across the nation to settle an argument over mutual corruption in a debate broadcast live on television, but neither admitted to allegations put forth by the other.

Journalist Uğur Dündar moderated the debate, which started at 2:30 p.m. yesterday. The event occurred following a heated discussion between Fırat and Kılıçdaroğlu that took place over the past week, with the two men exchanging various allegations against each other and each other’s parties.

“This is not a duel,” said Fırat. “We are politicians; we will not move beyond a certain style of speech. I apologize to anyone who expected otherwise.” Kılıçdaroğlu started by thanking both Dündar and Fırat, reiterating Fırat’s words that this was “not a duel.” “This meeting is about showing that lies in politics do not remain unexposed for long; it is about trying to protect the rights of innocent people,” he said.

Dündar recalled Kılıçdaroğlu’s first accusation that a company in which Fırat had shares was involved in the practice of what is known in Turkey as “imaginary exports,” whereby a company uses export incentives given by the state for other purposes and deceives the state by paying back in foreign currency not earned from export activity but bought within the borders of Turkey.

In the nearly one-hour exchange, they pointed out to each other various court decisions, convictions and acquittals, audits and inspection reports regarding the MENAS exports company, where Fırat used to have a 30 percent share. Kılıçdaroğlu, in his final statement, accused Fırat of citing court decisions in cases other than the specific one he was referring to, stating that there were three reports — one in 2000, in 2004 and 2006 — about MENAS; he said he was talking about the report from Oct. 24, 2000. A court decision, and later a Council of State ruling confirmed that this report’s findings on export fraud were true and convicted MENAS, ordering it to pay back export incentives it had received from the state. The discussion ended with no solid conclusion, although Fırat continued to demand an apology and Kılıçdaroğlu insisted that Fırat should resign from his post as a deputy.

During the program, Kılıçdaroğlu also reiterated his second allegation that 89 kilograms of heroin was found on a cargo truck belonging to the MENAS company on Feb. 27, 2008. He presented a news story published in February in the Vatan daily. He also produced a document with the Fırat’s name on it that was signed by his attorney in his stead, addressing the customs undersecretary and requesting the removal of MENAS from a list of export companies that were closely scrutinized at border crossings. He accused Fırat of using his political influence, noting that it was curious why a deputy who is no longer on the board of MENAS would allow his name to be used on such a document. He presented another document showing that Fırat resigned in September 2007 from MENAS. However, an official, notarized decision affirming the resignation came eight months after Fırat’s resignation. The official Trade Registry journal showed his resignation in June 2008. Kılıçdaroğlu said Fırat should explain why his resignation was notarized only after the narcotics scandal was publicized in the media.

In response, Fırat said he had taken the notarized approval for ending his partnership in MENAS precisely because he had to send certain documents demanded by the Vatan newspaper on the day of the narcotics story. He denied MENAS was ever involved in the narcotics trade, saying his partner had a professional legal background. Referring to himself and his partner, he said, “We both grow tangerines,” adding, “This is why we decided to set up a company together as two friends.” He also said the reason he sold all his shares in MENAS was precisely the fear that the company would be target of groundless attacks by his political rivals. He said MENAS transported 1,500 trucks of tangerine products annually, adding that the truck with heroin was one driven by someone who was already under the scrutiny of police. He stated that the driver, in his testimony to the police and also at the court, said someone in the southeastern city of Urfa — as he had traveled from northern Iraq — made threats as to what would happen if he didn’t accept the cargo and offered him $15,000 if he successfully transported the goods to Holland. Fırat said not a single board member or employee of the MENAS company had been called to testify regarding the heroin transport. “Say you are moving from İstanbul to Ankara and they find some marijuana on the transporter’s truck. Does that make you responsible for the marijuana?” he asked. Fırat noted that the Vatan story clearly wrote that he had nothing to do with the heroin seized on the truck. He claimed that the CHP was attacking AK Party members purposefully as part of a slander strategy.

Kılıçdaroğlu questioned why a driver who was being scrutinized by police was still employed at MENAS at a time when Fırat requested a no-inspection pass privilege for the company’s trucks. He also said he had nothing to do with three separate reports of export fraud filed against MENAS, the last of which was initiated by the Ukrainian government. He said the objective of both parties should be making ethical conduct dominate in politics.

Fırat reiterated his demand for an apology in response to Kılıçdaroğlu repeating his call for Fırat’s resignation. At the conclusion of the debate the two men shook hands.

This was the first time such an exchange occurred in Parliament in front of a live TV audience. Parliament Speaker Köksal Toptan repeatedly expressed displeasure over the duel at Parliament, but he was unable to talk the two men out of holding the debate.

Leading deputies of both the CHP and the AK Party observed the debate, despite a request from moderator Dündar for deputies to leave the crowded room, which was meant to host only journalists. Fifty-four television cameras were positioned in the hall where the debate took place, with 20 TV stations broadcasting the discussion live.

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Entry filed under: Diplomacy, Politics.

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