ANKARA, Turkey - The Turkish government protested to Germany yesterday after two German judges alleged that high-ranking Turkish officials, including Deputy Prime Minister Tansu Ciller, have protected heroin traffickers.
On Tuesday a judge in Frankfurt, presiding over the sentencing of three convicted drug smugglers, said the court had found - based on evidence presented in the case - that there were close ties between the Turkish government and heroin traffickers operating in Turkey and in Europe.
Judge Rolf Scwalbe was quoted in press reports as saying that two Kurdish clans known to be involved in the heroin trafficking through Turkey had "excellent relations with the Turkish government" and "personal contacts with a woman minister in the government."
Asked yesterday to name the woman minister, another judge in the case, Dox Neveling, was quoted as saying the two Kurdish clans had influence at "the highest levels of the government, and the name of Mrs. Ciller was cited during the hearing of the case."
According to Western and Turkish officials, a number of large Kurdish clans based in southeastern Turkey are believed to control the heroin trade through Turkey and into Europe.
The clans have settled members throughout Europe, officials say, as part of the smuggling operation.
The Kurdish Workers Party (PKK), a Marxist guerrilla group that is waging a separatist war against government troops in the southeast, is also known to be involved in drug smuggling.
Although Western officials acknowledge Turkey has stepped up its anti-drug efforts, they say privately that corruption among public officials, especially in the southeast, is the main obstacle to stopping the drug traffic.
A government policy of employing members of the Kurdish clans as village guards in its 12-year fight against the PKK has allowed the drug smuggling to flourish, critics say. The allegations made by the German judges come at a time when Turkey's government is being repeatedly shaken by allegations of ties among public officials and criminals.
At the heart of the scandal are accusations that officials in the government and security apparatus have ties to a network of criminal gangs.
In exchange for helping the government eliminate people deemed enemies of the state, including Kurdish separatists, the criminals are said to have been protected by officials and allowed to enrich themselves through drug trafficking, money laundering, extortion and other criminal activity.
The scandal emerged in November, when an automobile accident revealed a militant ultranationalist and convicted drug smuggler had been riding in the same car with a top police official and a member of Parliament from Ciller's True Path Party.