Phone Records Show Links Between Turkish Police, Dink Suspect

ISTANBUL (Hurriyet Daily News)–A former police informant and suspect in the Hrant Dink trial was in close contact with police long after the force said it had cut ties with the man, according to phone records supplied by the suspect’s lawyers.

In previous official statements, police sources have said they terminated their contacts with informant Erhan Tuncel on November 23, 2006, roughly two months before Armenian-Turkish journalist Dink was gunned down on January 19, 2007, in front of his newspaper’s offices in Istanbul.

Recently released phone records, however, indicate that Tuncel and the police traded text messages and called each other several times after the November date–the last coming two hours after the assassination.

Tuncel, who is under arrest for his alleged role in Dink’s death, has consistently defended himself, saying he provided police with constant intelligence updates about the plot to kill the journalist and adding that he has been victimized by public officials seeking to cover up their failure to prevent the killing.

Tuncel’s police contact was officer M.A., codenamed “Memduh;” until the new phone records were added to the case file, police had said M.A. sought to end ties with the suspect by “discouraging” further contact by not returning calls.

According to a police memo, Tuncel was only contacted with text messages “to see how he is doing” in order to “not lose control of him.”

The informant, meanwhile, said his calls were not returned and added that no explanation was given for the termination of his duty.

The new phone records allegedly indicate that Tuncel sent Memduh” three text messages between Nov. 26 and Dec. 1, 2006. The officer reportedly returned two messages and called Tuncel five times, speaking for a cumulative total of roughly five minutes. In December, Tuncel sent 14 texts, receiving 10 replies, while the pair also called each other once. On New Year’s Day, the pair also sent each other holiday greeting texts. Again, five days later, Tuncel sent two texts, and M.A. sent six back.

The pair last spoke via phone at 4.42 p.m. on January 19, 2007, two hours after Dink was shot.

Meanwhile, news outlets around the country reported earlier this week that the Istanbul Prosecutor’s Office would take testimony from 28 public officials in connection with alleged negligence in Dink’s assassination, a development that was welcomed by the slain journalist’s supporters.

On Tuesday, however, Interior Minister Beşir Atalay denied that any probe had been initiated.

“An investigation was not started. As you know, the European Court of Human Rights made a decision [saying the investigation of the murder had not been broad enough],” Atalay said. “After this, Dink’s lawyers applied to the prosecutor’s office again.”

The lawyer for former Istanbul Police Chief Celalettin Cerrah, one of the 28 officials, echoed Atalay’s statement, saying there was no investigation against his client.

Lawyers for the Dink family said the prosecutor’s office had approved the investigation, with lawyer Fethiye Çetin evaluating the minister’s statement as “an unfortunate intervention into the judiciary.”

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