A corruption scandal has been rocking Turkey for the past two months, exposing links between organized crime and government officials and forcing the resignation of the interior minister as well as the ouster of Istanbul's police chief and a handful of other security officers.

Daily front-page stories based on information emerging from intelligence and police investigations and disseminated by opposition politicians have implicated other government officials in the widening scandal -- including Tansu Ciller, who is both foreign minister and deputy prime minister in the conservative, Islamic party-led coalition government, and her husband, Ozer Ciller. Tansu Ciller has denied any wrongdoing.

At the heart of the furor are accusations that a network of criminal gangs has infiltrated Turkey's parliament, security forces and police apparatus. The gangs, in return for helping rid government officials of enemies, have been allowed to grow rich through extortion, gambling, money laundering and heroin trafficking, according to the accusations.

The crash of an armored Mercedes into a truck near the southwestern town of Susurluk on a cold night in November, which killed three of the four passengers in the car, provided the clearest indication yet that such clandestine connections could exist.

What began as a routine police investigation into the accident showed that the Mercedes' passengers included an ultranationalist fugitive, a top police official, a member of parliament and the fugitive's girlfriend, a former beauty contest winner. The legislator was the only survivor.

The fugitive killed in the accident, Abdullah Catli, has been wanted by the international law enforcement agency Interpol since he escaped in 1990 from a Swiss prison, where he was serving a sentence for heroin trafficking. Catli was suspected of involvement in a number of killings in Turkey, including those of seven leftist students, and of having helped Mehmet Ali Agca escape from prison in Istanbul in 1979. Two years later, Agca shot Pope John Paul II in an assassination attempt in Rome.

In testimony last week before the parliamentary commission investigating the current scandal, a top intelligence official acknowledged that Turkey's intelligence agency had used Catli for "operations carried out in foreign countries," according to the newspaper Hurriyet. The official, Mehmet Eymur, said Catli was employed by the National Intelligence Organization following the 1980 military coup in Turkey.

"We used Catli after the 1980 coup even though we knew this was wrong," Eymur was quoted by Hurriyet as saying. "But we gave up after a while because of a rumor that he had joined a narcotics ring."

Eymur said that Catli, who held a Turkish diplomatic passport as well as a gun license bearing the signature of Mehmet Agar, the interior minister who resigned, had also worked for the national security police agency.

According to press accounts, Turkish officials employed criminals such as Catli to battle leftist extremists and terrorists allied with Armenian separatists in the 1970s and 1980s, and more recently to help in the government's battle against Kurdish separatist guerrillas of the Kurdish Workers' Party (PKK), which has been fighting for 12 years to establish a Kurdish homeland in southeastern Turkey.

The legislator who survived the Susurluk crash, Sedat Bucak, is also involved in the government's anti-PKK effort. Bucak, a member of Ciller's True Path Party, is the leader of a clan that is receiving millions of dollars from the government to provide village guards to fight the PKK in the southeastern provinces.

Opposition politicians and newspaper editorials have criticized the government's policy of using Kurdish clans, many of whom are suspected of being involved in the thriving heroin trafficking in the region, in its battle with the PKK.

"In the fight against {PKK} terrorism, the duties which the state itself should fulfill have been handed over to village guards who are part of the clans and landlord system in the southeast," wrote Cengiz Candar, a columnist with the mass-circulation newspaper Sabah.

"The result is that we discern the existence of a highly complicated, illegal and dirty network of drug trafficking extending from the village guards -- who have been placed under the protective wing of the state -- to the security units who are in contact with them and inevitably to the politicians," Candar wrote.

Huseyin Kocadag, the police official killed in the Susurluk crash, also had links to the government's campaign against the PKK, having commanded special anti-guerrilla teams at one point. Gonca Us, the third person killed in the crash, reportedly was Catli's girlfriend.

Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan, who critics say has been reluctant to take action in the Susurluk scandal because of the accusations concerning his coalition partner, Ciller, said at a meeting of party leaders called by President Suleyman Demirel last month that the investigations of links between criminals and the state "should definitely be deepened and widened."

Erbakan was quoted as saying he was shocked by intelligence reports that implicated 58 people, including public officials, in organized crime. "We are now being confronted with incidents we never even imagined," he said. "At this stage we see that all these should be investigated to get to the bottom" of the scandal.

Demirel, meeting with party leaders, reiterated his call for a thorough investigation but cautioned against tarnishing the reputation of state institutions. That led some political observers to speculate that he will limit the probe.

Opposition politicians have clamored, along with the press, for an intensive investigation into any government links to criminals.

Mesut Yilmaz, leader of the opposition center-right Motherland Party, who makes no secret of his enmity for political rival Ciller, has given the parliamentary commission documentation he said proves links between the state and criminals.

Yilmaz, who has called for establishment of an investigation committee with special powers, has indirectly accused Ciller, a former prime minister, of involvement in the scandal. Moreover, an intelligence report published in the press accused Ciller and Agar of setting up their own illegal "gang within the state."

Ciller has denied the allegations but raised eyebrows by publicly praising Catli, saying, "Those who fire shots for the state are, for us, as respectable as those who get shot for it."

As members of parliament, Ciller, Agar and Bucak have immunity from prosecution, a situation that has hampered the investigations so far, critics say. Before a judicial body may investigate lawmakers, parliament must strip them of their immunity.

Such a move against Ciller appears unlikely now, given her party's strategic place in the governing coalition. Erbakan, analysts say, will support her as long as she helps to keep him and his Welfare Party in power.

However, with reports that 14 members of parliament are planning to desert Ciller's party and challenge the coalition, the political aftershocks of the Susurluk accident appear to be far from over. CAPTION: Prime Minister Erbakan now is being urged to take action against Deputy Prime Minister Ciller.