Prominent figures charged in Turkey charity probe

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A Turkish court charged four prominent suspects in a probe into an Islamic charity accused of embezzling donations and ordered them to jail pending trial, Anatolia news agency reported on Monday.

The most high-profile among them was Zahid Akman, former head of Turkey's media watchdog, known to be personally close to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The suspects were charged as part of an investigation linked to a 2008 court case in Germany over the embezzlement of donations raised by the Turkish migrant community there.

A Frankfurt court convicted three managers of Deniz Feneri (Lighthouse), the offspring of an Istanbul-based charity of the same name close to Erdogan's Justice and Development Party (AKP), for embezzling 14.5 million euros.

Most of the money is believed to have ended up in a business group close to the AKP and the Kanal 7 television channel, a staunch government supporter.

Akman, a former Kanal 7 anchorman who served as the head of Turkey's media regulatory board and is now only a member, was among several people based in Turkey that the German probe implicated as the masterminds.

He allegedly carried large amounts of cash from Germany to Turkey.

The three other suspects to stand trial are all top Kanal 7 managers -- executive board chairman Zekeriya Karaman, deputy director Ismail Karahan and editor-in-chief Mustafa Celik, Anatolia reported.

The court heeded a prosecution demand to charge them on suspicion of having set up a criminal gang as well as for fraud and forgery, it said.

Kanal 7 finance director Erdogan Kara was released after questioning.

Deniz Feneri was set up in 1998 on the basis of a Kanal 7 programme supporting the poor.

The German investigation triggered a storm in Turkey over allegations that the charity might have funneled funds into the AKP, a claim the party denies.

Under Turkish law, parties cannot accept funds from abroad and any breach constitutes ground to outlaw them.

Erdogan launched a harsh attack on Turkey's largest media group, Dogan, and urged readers to boycott its newspapers after they provided extensive coverage of the trial in Germany and suggested that charity money might have been used to finance the AKP.

The authorities imposed a giant fine on Dogan for tax irregularies in 2009.

© 2011 AFP

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