The latest in a series of tapes purporting to reveal the private conversations of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the prime minister, appeared on the internet on Tuesday and shone a spotlight on the highly politicised world of Turkish business.
During the conversation, the authenticity of which could not immediately be verified, Mr Erdogan appeared to advise Metin Kalkavan, an industrialist, on how best to appeal against a €1.5bn outline government agreement to purchase six warships from the shipyard of rival Koc Holding, Turkey’s largest industrial group. The prime minister also appeared to advise him on how much to bid for the contract.
The deal with Koc was eventually overturned last year.
Neither the prime minister’s office nor Mr Kalkavan were available for comment.
Mr Erdogan has dismissed as a fabrication a previous tape in which he appeared to discuss how to hide a large amount of cash from a corruption probe. But he has also accused his political enemies in Turkey’s police of eavesdropping on conversations on his encrypted phone and of violating his family’s privacy.
The prime minister has a history of tension with Koc. For many Turks, the company, which claims to account for some 10 per cent of Turkey’s gross domestic product and which has joint ventures with Ford, Fiat and UniCredit, is the epitome of the country’s old secular elite – a class Mr Erdogan has long argued preyed on Turkey’s pious conservative majority.
“The old Turkey had an environment suitable for certain people’s benefits, but it was an environment that damaged our people,” he said in a speech this year.
Mr Erdogan attacked Koc for giving protesters shelter at the group’s Divan hotel at the height of last year’s mass demonstrations against his government. Tax inspectors accompanied by police subsequently staged high-profile raids on two of the conglomerate’s energy subsidiaries.
In public comments in the past, the Koc group has denied any political link to its troubles with the government. But in an interview with Turkey’s Hurriyet newspaper at the weekend, Mustafa Koc, the group’s chairman, appeared to make an implicit reference to Mr Erdogan and the corruption scandal.
“Our country and our people deserve clean politics,” Mr Koc said. He added that if the conversations purportedly of Mr Erdogan were authentic “then whoever is behind them has to bear the consequences”.
Other seeming leaks, which the government calls a “chain of slander”, include a conversation in which Mr Erdogan appears to tell his son Bilal to reject a $10m payment from an industrialist as inadequate and a seeming effort to establish an ally as head of Istanbul’s Fenerbahce football club.
Mr Erdogan says the recordings are the work of the movement of Fethullah Gulen, a preacher and former ally with many followers in Turkish institutions, and has also accused prosecutors in a corruption probe, which has been stalled by the government, of leaking the tapes to the media.
Mr Gulen has denied any link to the corruption investigation. In his interview, Mr Koc said he had last seen the preacher in May as part of his practice of seeing “all important and influential people” in Turkey, but added that the group was taking no part in the conflict between Gulenists and the government.