Finances of ex-leader of Turkey questioned Ciller accused of forging Muslim alliance to shield inquiries on wealth


ISTANBUL, Turkey -- When Tansu Ciller became prime minister of Turkey in 1993, she seemed the ideal figure to lead her country toward the next century: an English-speaking economist, a woman in a Muslim country and a dedicated secularist in a region where fundamentalism was making steady gains.

But Ciller now is foreign minister and a leading member of a coalition government headed by a Muslim-based party. Many Turkish political leaders accuse her of forging the alliance to shield herself from a series of inquiries into her personal finances.

Parliamentary investigators, leading political figures and Turkish newspapers have been examining how Ciller and her husband, Ozer Ciller, became multimillionaires. They have raised questions about her statement that she inherited more than $1 million in cash and gold from her mother, whom former neighbors have described as a penniless pensioner.

Mrs. Ciller's critics also have examined the purchase of $1.5 million worth of properties in New Hampshire by an American company headed by her husband. They assert that the couple enriched themselves through illicit use of government funds in her years as prime minister from 1993 to 1996.

Some opposition figures have suggested that Mrs. Ciller once held American citizenship, which, if true, could complicate her political position here. They have sued in federal court in New York to obtain her passport records.

While the United States has declined to confirm or deny the existence of such documents, it is fighting the legal action. The State Department has said that disclosing any foreign official's passport records could cause "great disadvantage, and perhaps personal and familial danger, abroad."

Mrs. Ciller has denied any wrongdoing. Tim Platt, her New Hampshire lawyer, said she has never held an American passport or been an American citizen. Platt also said that her investments in the United States comply fully with American law.

Some aspects of Mrs. Ciller's rise to the status of a multimillionaire, however, remain unclear. She has said, for example, that some of her wealth stems from wise investment of the $1.1 million inheritance from her mother, who died in 1995. But neighbors of her mother said last week that she had lived near poverty.

Questions about Mrs. Ciller's finances were of little interest outside Turkey until June, when she astonished many world leaders by agreeing to join in a coalition government with the Islamic-oriented Welfare Party. Until then, she had bitterly attacked Welfare, vowing never to cooperate with it.

Pub Date: 4/06/97

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