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Turkish MPs Clear Ex-Ministers of Corruption

Supporters of main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) hold placards with pictures of four former ministers while shouting anti-government slogans during a protest in Istanbul, Turkey, Dec. 17, 2014.

A Turkish parliamentary committee has cleared four former ministers of corruption charges. The investigation followed controversial police probes into the allegations, which the government and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan described as a coup attempt by police.

The parliamentary probe split along party lines, with the nine members of the ruling AK party rejecting high-level corruption allegations while five opposition members dissented.

The committee was considering whether to recommend to parliament that four former ministers face Turkey's constitutional court on graft charges.

Parliamentary deputy Levant Gok of the main opposition Republican People’s Party condemned the committee decision to clear the ministers.

Gok described Turkish politics as going through a dark day with the AK party commission votes.

"While we politicians strive for installing trust in politicians and politics, the damage AKP made to the institution of politics won't be able to be fixed for many years to come," he said.

But AKP commission member Yilmaz Tunc rejected claims the ruling party members' decision was partisan. He said "everybody" now accepts that the corruption investigations were an attempt to overthrow the government.

While Tunc acknowledged that some people might not agree, he said the "big picture" should be acknowledged. He added there was no AK party pressure on the committee members in reaching their decision.

The parliamentary investigation came after police in December, 2013 launched corruption probes that implicated senior ministers and family members linked to the AK party, including then prime minister, now President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Four ministers were forced to resign and were then investigated by parliament.

Erdogan dismissed the allegations as a coup attempt by followers of his former ally and now rival, Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen. The government removed thousands of police officers and judiciary members from office, and all the corruption probes into 58 suspects ended in October.

Political columnist Asli Aydintasbas of Turkey’s Milliyet newspaper says the hand of the president was likely behind the parliamentary committee’s decision.

"These allegations are well documented, publicly known, well sourced. I can only assume the media reports are true, that the president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, thinks otherwise," said Aydintasbas. "Erdogan has always felt that it would be a mistake to give an inch because then it would open the floodgates. He has always resisted allegations about his people, members of his party, etc."

The president and senior ministers in the past few weeks have accused the constitutional court of being partisan and part of a conspiracy against him and his government.

But observers say Monday's decision is likely to embarrass Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, who last month promised to crack down on graft and said he would cut off the hand of those who commit corruption. A senior Davutoglu adviser also recently warned of the need for the ruling AK party to address corruption concerns, with an election looming in June.

Political scientist Cengiz Aktar of Istanbul’s Suleyman Sah University says the committee's decision is likely to add to the deep political polarization in Turkey between supporters and opponents of the AK party.

"It will confirm the existing the [political] fault line," he said. "It will confirm the negative image outside. And it will confirm the appalling state of the justice system in this county. Sooner or later, after years maybe, it [corruption allegations] will come back over. It’s far from being over."

Yet others point out the electoral fallout of the corruption allegations could be limited. With the political opposition in disarray and the economy still growing, opinion polls indicate a strong lead for the ruling party, even though those same polls indicate a large majority of people believe there is high-level corruption.

The full Turkish parliament must still vote on whether to send the four former ministers to the constitutional court. But with the ruling AK party enjoying a large majority, that is widely considered unlikely.