Ankara (AFP) - Turkish police on Wednesday detained on fraud charges a televangelist notorious for propagating conservative views while surrounded by scantily-clad women he refers to as his "kittens".
Adnan Oktar, a bizarre and controversial figure who also denies evolution, was detained alongside dozens of mainly female alleged supporters on accusations of fraud, bribery and sexual assault.
Oktar, who critics see as the leader of a cult, gained notoriety for his programmes on the online A9 television channel and had regularly been denounced by Turkey's religious leaders.
He presented programmes surrounded by scantily-clad and heavily made-up women -- who appeared to have had plastic surgery -- who he dubbed "kittens".
In a major crackdown on his group, he was taken into custody in Istanbul as part of a probe by the city's police financial crimes unit, state-run Anadolu news agency said.
A total of 235 arrest warrants were issued and at least 166 people have been detained so far in helicopter-backed raids in Istanbul, Ankara and also southern Turkey, Anadolu said. NTV television said 100 of those detained are female.
Oktar was caught as he was trying to run away, the Istanbul public prosecutor said in a statement, quoted by the Hurriyet daily. His lawyers were also detained.
He is also accused of "setting up an organisation with the aim of committing crime", "committing fraud through abuse of religious belief and sentiment", Anadolu said.
Oktar's assets were seized, Anadolu said, adding that authorities appointed a trustee to his companies, associations and foundations.
Weapons including guns and rifles were also found during the raids, the agency said.
- 'British deep state' -
Before officers took him for a medical check, Oktar told waiting media that the claims were "lies", adding: "This is a game by the British deep state."
He often rails against the so-called "British deep state" in his programme and in one video, he says it has "sneakily disguised itself" and is linked to criminal groups.
Oktar is himself accused of political and military espionage by authorities.
Oktar is a creationist who rejects the Darwinian theory of evolution and has written a 770-page book "The Atlas of Creation" under the pen name, Harun Yahya.
Oktar first came to media attention in the 1990s when he was the leader of a sect caught up in multiple sex scandals. As a result, he had faced similar criminal charges of setting up a criminal organisation.
One of the "kittens" Ceylan Ozgul said in March that she ran away and slammed the lack of freedom but another woman, Tulay Kumasci, said Ozgul left of her own free will.
The head of Turkey's Diyanet religious affairs agency Ali Erbas said earlier this year that Oktar had "likely lost his mental balance", prompting a war of words with the televangelist.
In February, workers from the Turkish Diyanet and Foundation Workers' Union (Diyanet-Sen) launched a legal complaint against Oktar over various allegations including insulting sacred values.
In the same month, Turkey's audiovisual authority RTUK ordered a programme presented by Oktar to cease broadcasting five times and handed down a fine because it violated gender equality and belittled women.