(A demonstrator holds a shoe box, as a reference to reported shoe boxes of cash found in the house of Halkbank CEO Suleyman Aslan, during a demonstration against Turkey’s ruling Ak Party (AKP) and Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara December 21, 2013. The sign at left reads: “Government has to resign.” REUTERS/Umit Bektas)

A war of words escalated on Monday between Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan and a cleric with powerful influence in the police and judiciary, worsening political turmoil unleashed by a corruption scandal.

Turkey has been increasingly polarised since the arrest on graft charges last week of the head of state-run lender Halkbank and the sons of two government ministers. Erdogan answered the arrests by sacking or reassigning the Istanbul police chief and some 70 other police officers.

The scandal and the government’s response have added to a febrile political atmosphere in the country, which saw unprecedented mass protests against Erdogan’s rule earlier this year.

The public has been riveted by the case, with news channels showing police footage of shoeboxes stuffed with millions of euros in cash allegedly found in homes of corruption suspects.