ANKARA — Turkish police have eavesdropped on thousands of people including Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, as well as cabinet ministers, the country’s spy chief and journalists, local newspapers reported on Monday.
Associates of US-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen in the police and the judiciary have tapped the phones of Erdogan as well as politicians and businessmen for three years, pro-government dailies Yenisafak and Star claimed.
Erdogan has accused rivals in the influential Gulen group of acting as a “state within a state” seeking to topple his government by instigating a high-level corruption investigation against close allies.
Classified documents revealing the surveillance were discovered by new prosecutors appointed after a mass purge of the police and prosecution service in the wake of the corruption probe launched in December, the press reports said.
The Star reported that so-called Gulenists had wiretapped more than 7,000 people, as well as the headquarters of the opposition Republic People’s Party, since 2011 on the pretext of trying to uncover terrorism plots.
Energy Minister Taner Yildiz said that he had been wiretapped, adding: “This is no longer a problem just for the (ruling) AK Party.”
The corruption scandal has thrown up one of the most serious challenges to Erdogan’s 11 years in power ahead of key local elections in March.
The mass eavesdropping reports come as parliament began debating a new bill aimed at giving the intelligence agency a free hand in carrying out undercover missions and surveillance at home and abroad — without the need for a court order.
Erdogan has come under fire for what critics see as increasingly authoritarian policies, including curbs on the judiciary and the Internet.