ANKARA, May 27 (Reuters) - A major Turkish conglomerate has been suspended from state tenders, the government said on Wednesday, days after President Tayyip Erdogan accused its head of being a “coup lover” and described columnists for its media arm as charlatans.
The government denied any link between the media dispute and the ban. But Erdogan has a history of conflict with Dogan Holding and its head Aydin Dogan.
Columnists in Dogan’s flagship newspaper Hurriyet have been critical of Erdogan’s ambitions to create a more powerful presidency after June 7 polls he hopes will produce a big enough majority for the AK Party he co-founded to change the constitution. Recent surveys suggest he may fall short.
Erdogan appears to have taken umbrage when, after former Egyptian president Mohamed Mursi was sentenced to death, Dogan’s flagship newspaper Hurriyet ran a headline reading: “elected with 52 percent of the votes and handed a death sentence”.
Erdogan, who also won 52 percent in a presidential election last August, publicly suggested the headline was a reference to him and was meant to imply that he should share the same fate.
“I don’t care what your columnists write. I don’t care what your bankrolled charlatans write; they mean nothing to me,” Erdogan said in television interview this week.
In an editorial published on Wednesday, Hurriyet denied any suggestion of a comparison between Mursi and Erdogan.
“The alleged connection never passed through the minds of Hurriyet’s editors.”
Dogan and its former fuel retailing unit, Petrol Ofisi, will not be able to bid in state tenders for the next 237 days, according to an order from the energy ministry published in the government’s official gazette.
Dogan and Petrol Ofisi were handed a one-year ban in 2009 over quality issues in a supply deal with a state power plant. They served part of that before the penalty was overturned by a court.
Energy Minister Taner Yildiz said the decision to reinstate the penalty was not related to the recent media dispute.
“This ruling is a decision that has nothing to do with the current conjuncture and debates,” he told reporters in Ankara.
In 2009, Dogan was handed a large tax penalty after a tax inspection that followed its close coverage of corruption allegations against figures close to Erdogan.
Erdogan said the corruption investigations were concocted by a former ally turned political enemy who was seeking to engineer a coup against him. He has since purged the police force and judiciary and the investigations have been dropped.
Company founder Aydin Dogan was forced after the tax demand to sell the group’s Milliyet and Vatan newspapers, the Star TV channel and shares in Petrol Ofisi. (Writing by Ece Toksabay; editing by David Dolan)