GeriGündem Aydin Dogan says PM seeks to create "calm and silent Turkey"
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Aydin Dogan says PM seeks to create "calm and silent Turkey"

The owner of Dogan Media Group, Aydin Dogan, gave his first interview to the Wall Street Journal after the Treasury imposed a controversial tax fine of half-billion-dollars.

Here is the full article as it is publised on the Wall Street Journal's website:

"Turkish Mogul Butts Heads With Premier
Secularist Media Magnate Faces Tax Charges He Says are Politically Motivated by an Islamist-Tinged Government


ISTANBUL -- An acrimonious feud between Turkey's leading media mogul and the country's Islam-tinged government has escalated sharply, amid fears in an embattled secular elite that intolerance of critical voices is eroding the Middle East's only Muslim democracy.

Speaking in his first interview after being hit recently with a tax charge and fine of around $500 million, Turkish media, energy and property magnate Aydin Dogan accused Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of seeking to muzzle criticism and create a "calm and silent Turkey."

"The basis for all this is political," said Mr. Dogan, chairman of Dogan Sirketler Grubu Holdings AS, a conglomerate that controls seven newspapers, 28 magazines and three Turkish television channels as well as gasoline, electricity and other energy interests.

Turkey's ruling AK Party maintains that Mr. Dogan and his supporters are themselves trying to politicize a routine tax matter. The Finance Ministry said the fine and tax charge related to tax irregularities and had no other motive.

Mr. Dogan denies dodging taxes, and the company said it will contest the penalties.

The levy against Mr. Dogan's media group, Dogan Yayin Holdings, followed months of increasingly angry denunciations by Mr. Erdogan of "made-up news" about corruption.

The confrontation has sharpened tensions between Mr. Erdogan's party, which took power after a 2002 election, and a wealthy secular elite that previously dominated the economic and political affairs of a nation founded as a secular republic by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk in 1923.

A pillar of Turkey's secular establishment, Mr. Dogan, 72 years old, said he initially supported many AK Party policies, particularly its push to get Turkey into the European Union. Mr. Erdogan, he said, "has changed," veering away from early efforts to make Turkey more open and tolerant.

"Mr. Erodgan came to power using democracy. He is a product of democracy, but he can accept democracy only for himself," said Mr. Dogan, speaking in his palatial Istanbul office Friday. "He cannot accept side components of democracy such as free media."

Nearby, a television set -- tuned to one of the channels owned by Mr. Dogan -- broadcast yet another attack on his media by Mr. Erdogan.

Commenting on the broadside, Mr. Dogan said: "I used to get annoyed. Now I take it for granted."

Mr. Erodgan, who caused a stir last month by storming off the stage during a debate about Gaza at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, has repeatedly denied wanting to silence media critics. He has said the government is merely trying to force businesses to obey the law and to end the unfair privileges that he argues they enjoyed under previous governments.

At a campaign rally last Thursday ahead of municipal elections in March, Mr. Erdogan accused Mr. Dogan's media company of joining forces with opposition politicians "to cover up its wrongdoings." He earlier mocked foes in the media as "dear dogs" that "sleep with" the opposition.

Bulent Gedikli, AK Party deputy chairman for economic affairs, said that Mr. Dogan's business faced a "routine tax examination" but that "what is not routine is the exaggerated manner" of the uproar that has followed. "This is very misleading to public opinion," said Mr. Gedikli.

Most of the levy relates to money earned by Dogan media from the sale of a stake to German media group Axel Springer AG, Mr. Dogan said.

Opposition politicians and free-press campaigners have condemned the government over the affair. Critics accuse Mr. Erdogan of adopting tactics similar to those used by Russian leader Vladimr Putin, who dismembered independent media group Media-Most and silenced other critical voices by deploying tax inspectors and other state functionaries to combat alleged economic crimes.

Turkey, however, has a far more robust free media and open society than Russia.

Mr. Dogan said seven of his companies are being investigated by tax inspectors. Relations with the government, he said, first "went haywire" early last year when his media outlets reported on the business dealings of Mr. Erdogan's son and the wife of another son. The mood soured further when Mr. Dogan's newspapers started digging into a criminal case in Germany involving a Turkish charity accused of funneling funds to Mr. Erdogan's AK Party.

"He could not put up with this and wanted to silence us. We refused to accept silence. The situation with the government got out of control," Mr. Dogan said.

Mr. Erdogan in September urged supporters to boycott Mr. Dogan's newspapers, the most prominent of which are Hurriyet and Milliyet.

Mr. Dogan said this only boosted circulation but added that the prime minister's anger has branded his various companies with an "X mark" that makes it difficult to do business. "All our business is tied up in red tape," he said, "Everything is delayed." Projects on hold include plans to build an oil refinery by Petrol Ofisi AS, majority owned by Mr. Dogan's group.

Mr. Dogan said he and Mr. Erdogan haven't spoken since 2006, though they did shake hands late last year at a wedding."

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