Hell hath no fury like a Turk slighted: An acrimonious divorce has set off a political corruption scandal, Hugh Pope writes from Istanbul

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SCANDALS in Turkey are usually like Istanbul summers: short, steamy and soon forgotten. But the Ergun Goknel divorce and kickback story has trained a spotlight as never before on the rotten ways of Turkish political life.

At first, the travails of the chief of Istanbul's Iski municipal water company seemed a low- key distraction for society pages usually devoted to the gold-spangled weddings, night-clubbing and conspicuous consumption of the nouveau riche elite. Turks have also become accustomed, since Ottoman times, to tales of corruption and intrigue. But the Goknel affair may show that there is a limit, and the media are in full cry for change.

The story began when Mr Goknel, a gregarious figure in his fifties, ditched his spouse to marry a secretary 29 years his junior. To placate his angry wife, he paid her pounds 500,000 in cash and gave her a house and car. But it was not enough. She spilt the beans, pointing out that there could be no legitimate source for the money. She accused him of accepting all kinds of kickbacks, prompting the mayor who gave him his job, Nurettin Sozen, to sack him while he was on honeymoon in East Asia. Mr Goknel responded by accusing everybody of being in it with him, right up to the leader of his Social Democratic Populist Party, Erdal Inonu, who is also Deputy Prime Minister.

The fraud squad moved in, finding papers in Mr Goknel's flat that allegedly implied systematic extortion from municipal contractors and, apparently, regular 'salaries' for a Social Democrat minister and 29 journalists.

There was more to come. Newspapers were soon publishing police tapes of conversations in which one of Mr Goknel's sons accused his father of stealing 'the camel and its load . . . he never gave us anything. Once he brought some trousers from Europe, but he even wanted the money for them.'

Gungor Mengi, of the daily Sabah, said: 'If there is corruption, there cannot be justice . . . In societies where corruption has become a semi-official tax, why is there terrorism and torture? . . . (because) it's all part of the same dirty circle.'

Corruption is rampant in the Istanbul municipality. The Bosporus is supposed to be a protected area of natural beauty, but somehow the banks of the entire strait are turning into an elongated Hong Kong of concrete.

In Turkey, however, things are often not what they seem. Corruption is usually only a matter of smoothing one's path, adding an overall cost of just 2 per cent, according to one big importer. And ironically, some payments asked for by Mr Goknel seem to have been made to charities doing work the municipality itself did not have the money to do. Others were made to support the Social Democrat party as business donations.

The Prime Minister, Tansu Ciller, has promised a clean-up, saying 'the belief that bribery and corruption is widespread in Turkey is rightly entrenched in the minds of the Turkish people'. Mrs Ciller should know. It is an open secret that the press is building up files on her and her ex-banker husband relating to property speculation and a bank collapse in the 1980s. The propriety of these dealings is still winding its way through the Turkish judicial system.

The one sure loser is Mrs Goknel. She will have to surrender a big chunk of her ill-gotten alimony to the Treasury, which has discovered that she is liable for capital transfer tax.