Turkish PM fumes at Swiss bank account claims

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Turkey's prime minister Wednesday furiously denied claims he had secret accounts in Swiss banks and was involved in fraud, penned by US diplomats in cables revealed by the WikiLeaks website.

"I do not have one penny in Swiss banks... If this is proven, I will not stay in my post," Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in an angry speech at a public ceremony here.

He urged Washington "to call to account" its diplomats for "slander derived from lies and inaccurate opinions," adding that his aides were looking into ways of legal action against the cable authors.

He also lashed out at Turkey's main opposition leader, who had called on Erdogan to explain the claims, and local media which reported the cables, calling them "slanderers" and "villains."

A 2004 dispatch by the US embassy included comments on Erdogan's personal wealth, often questioned in Turkey given the prime minister's modest background and his stated commitment to fighting the country's chronic corruption.

"We have heard from two contacts that Erdogan has eight accounts in Swiss banks," the cable said.

"His explanations that his wealth comes from the wedding presents guests gave his son and that a Turkish businessman is paying the educational expenses of all four Erdogan children in the US purely altruistically are lame," it added.

Following opposition pressure, Erdogan disclosed his personal wealth in 2006. It amounted to some 1.2 million dollars at the time, including cash in Turkish banks and real estate.

He said the bulk of the cash came from the sale of shares in several food distribution companies he had previously owned.

Another leaked memo said a source had told the Americans that Erdogan "benefited directly" from the privatisation of state oil refinery Tupras, while other papers suggested favours to businessmen close to the prime minister.

Three of his aides were named as engaged in "wholesale influence peddling."

The cables included also scathing political assessments of Erdogan, a former Islamist whose close contacts with Iran and furious outbursts against Israel, once a close Turkish ally, have irked Washington.

They said Erdogan lacks "vision" and "analytic depth", reads "minimally" and is guided by an "iron ring of sycophantic (but contemptuous) advisors... which partially explains... his susceptibility to Islamist theories."

Erdogan also "hates Israel" on religious grounds, said the cables, which also quoted the Israeli ambassador's description of Erdogan as "a fundamentalist."

© 2010 AFP

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