Erdoğan sacks trade minister after nepotism allegations

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan fired Ruhsar Pekcan as trade minister after her ministry awarded a contract to a family company.

Erdoğan replaced Pekcan with Mehmet Mus, a deputy chief of his governing Justice and Development Party (AKP), according to a presidential decree published in the Official Gazette on Wednesday. He provided no reason for the dismissal.

Pekcan’s ministry had granted a contract for the purchase of disinfectants to a company chaired by her husband. The minister had sought to defend her actions on Tuesday, saying that the lowest bidder was chosen regardless of the company owner. She was responding to a report by the Oda TV news website on Friday that her ministry and related institutions bought disinfectant worth 9 million liras ($930,000) from two companies in which she was a part-owner with her husband Hasan.

Nepotism - when a person in an official position exploits his or her power to provide a job or favour to a family member or friend - is defined as a form of corruption by international watchdog Transparency International.

Pekcan, a former investment banker, became minister in July 2018.

Erdoğan’s critics say Turkey’s image with regard to corruption and equal opportunity has been tarnished by his government and his own personal actions. The president appointed his son-in-law Berat Albayrak as treasury and finance minister in 2018, causing uproar among his political opponents, who accused him of seeking to take personal control of economic and financial institutions.

Albayrak resigned in November. A domestic storm has since erupted over the loss of tens of billions of dollars of the central bank’s foreign currency reserves under Albayrak’s watch, which were sold as the lira hit successive record lows against the dollar. Albayrak has disappeared from public life.

Turkey placed joint 86th of 179 countries in Transparency International's 2020 Corruption Perceptions Index, ranking it alongside Morocco, India, Burkina Fasso, Timor-Leste, and Trinidad and Tobago. Turkey was defined as a 'significant decliner' in the index and placed lower than every country of the 27-member European Union, of which it is seeking membership.

In late 2013, Erdoğan's government became embroiled in a corruption scandal involving several family members of ministers. The people were accused by police and prosecutors of complicity in a multi-billion dollar oil-for-gold scheme to help Iran evade U.S. sanctions. Erdoğan later quashed the investigation, arresting police and judicial officials and accusing them of plotting with a rival Islamic group to overthrow his government.  

On Wednesday, Erdoğan also dismissed Family and Labour Minister Zehra Zümrüt Selçuk, dividing the ministry into two. He hired Derya Yanık, a senior member of his party in Istanbul, as family minister and Vedat Bilgin, his former adviser, as labour minister.

(This story was updated with Turkey's Transparency International global ranking in the eighth paragraph.)