In most places, average people become icons when they pull off some derring-do: They prevent a child from getting hit by a car, nab a thief running from the scene of a crime, perform the Heimlich maneuver on a stranger in a restaurant.
But Turkey’s newest hero, Teoman Coskun Dudak, did none of those things. He’s being feted around Turkey and on social media for simply doing his job, which in Turkey can be more of a feat that it might seem.
It all started when a police report was leaked online last week detailing the alleged links between four ministers and a mushrooming corruption scandal that has gotten dangerously close to the prime minister.
The 300-page report shows Reza Sarrab, an Iranian businessman at the center of the scandal, complaining about a certain public servant who refused to take his payoff. Turns out that someone was Teoman Dudak. While the scope of the corruption inquiry suggests that many top government officials were ready to jump at the offer, the report shows that Sarrab was stunned that Teoman Dudak bluntly refused to take the money..
In a country where new government corruption revelations pop up almost daily, Dudak’s rejection of cronyism is indeed unusual. Sarrab faces a slew of accusations, including allegedly bribing ministers and high-level government officials, making illegal money transfers and smuggling gold. After being taken into custody in an initial police swoop in December, he has been released pending trial. He denies any wrongdoing.
In wiretapped conversations reportedly between Sarrab and his aide on January 2013, the two men talk about Teoman Dudak. At one point Sarrab’s aide expresses surprise and outrage as he relates that he offered Dudak plenty of inducements, including, of course, money, but could not convince him. According to the report, Dudak said he could not risk his career by taking bribes.
The conversation was about a plane carrying 1.5 tons of gold, which Sarrab and his friends wanted to send on to another destination, according to the report. Dudak, a deputy director at Istanbul’s customs office, refused to let it take off because its documentation had been faked. The report’s account makes clear that Dudak even refused to follow orders from his boss on letting the plane take off—because he said it was a violation of the rules.
In the end, Sarrab asked Zafer Caglayan, Turkey’s minister of economy at the time, to call the customs office and, after pressure from the government, the plane finally took off. Immediately after this incident, Dudak was transferred to the southern city of Gaziantep, near the Syrian border.
Since corruption is such a staple in Turkey, it was Dudak’s honesty rather than his superiors’ crookedness that became the real story from the leaks.
Dudak has been celebrated on social media, where he’s clearly provided some relief to Turks who are weary from waves of corruption emanating from the government: Last month, a tape surfaced apparently showing Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan asking his son to hide large sums of money. Erdogan has dismissed the tapes as fake, but he hasn’t convinced everybody. Last week, tens of thousands of people took to the streets, chanting “thief”—a reference to Erdogan.
So far, Dudak has refused to talk to the media, saying that, as a civil servant, he is not allowed to do so. But he did say that he was just doing his job.
Here are some sample tweets about Teoman Dudak:
“The difference between Teoman and the ministers: He does not touch a penny, ministers can’t have enough.”
“All we need is to be like civil servant Teoman, [with] heart, conscience and honesty.”
“Civil Servant Teoman (imaginative).”
“My candidate for president is Teoman the civil servant.”
“The man who does his job and resists, so that he can stay honest, becomes a hero. Poor us.”
“Because of [the ruling] AKP, we are so hungry for honesty. Girls have a shine for Teoman the civil servant right now. Thanks, AKP.”