‘“I got it done through the prime minister…’

Today’s Zaman reports new details as graft probe unfolds:

New corruption cases have emerged as new wiretappings and videos have surfaced as part of a graft investigation in which four ministers of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) were also allegedly involved.
According to Taraf, Ali Ağaoğlu, a construction mogul who was released after being taken into custody as part of the recent graft probe on condition that he be kept under judicial supervision and not leave Turkey, bought a plot of land in 2011 measuring nearly 65,000 square meters opposite the Veliefendi Hippodrome in İstanbul’s Bakırköy district.

A year later, Ağaoğlu reportedly applied to the İBB for the construction plan of the building site to be amended for more construction area. The İBB’s city council unanimously voted against the requested amendment that sought to increase the total construction area of the site by 193 percent. If Ağaoğlu’s request were to have been accepted by the city council, the area reserved for green areas on the plot of land owned by the construction mogul would have been reduced from almost 37,000 square meters to 23,000 square meters while the total area on that land that could be used for construction purposes would have gone up to 170,000 square meters.

Following the rejection by the city council to amend the construction plan of the land, the issue was later settled according to the mogul’s wishes after Ağaoğlu took up the issue with Prime Minister Erdoğan as per a claim in the graft probe documents, the daily said.

As per the daily, in one of his wiretapped telephone conversations with Timur Soysal, a member of the İBB city council, Ağaoğlu was heard saying about the issue: “I got it done through the prime minister. I’m clear about it. You insistently did not move to settle it. I then told Kadir Bey (Kadir Topbaş, the mayor of the İBB) about the issue but did not get any results. Then I went to the big boss [most likely referring to Prime Minister Erdoğan] and he directly instructed the minister [of environment and urban planning, Bayraktar]. ‘Settle the issue,’ he [the prime minister] said.”

In the wiretapped phone conversation, Ağaoğlu complained that Topbaş had kept delaying dealing with the issue although he had promised to settle it during a meeting before a thousand people. What Ağaoğlu wants is to increase the maximum height of the buildings he can build on that plot of land from a permitted 35 meters to 70 meters, thereby almost doubling the area of construction.

When his project was rejected by the İBB city council, Ağaoğlu reportedly took the issue to Bayraktar’s son and to Sadık Soylu, the minister’s advisor. Through them, the daily claimed, Ağaoğlu’s project was deemed a “special project area” by the ministry and the amendments to the construction plan as requested by the construction mogul were carried out.

In a wiretapped phone conversation with the minister, Ağaoğlu seems to have gotten the green light from Bayraktar. In a conversation between the two on Feb. 1, Ağaoğlu told Bayraktar he wanted to have a talk with him about “that thing.” In response, the minister reportedly said: “Go head as you please. Never mind [the objection by the İBB]. If that does not suit you, go ahead as you please.”

Süleyman Aslan, the general manager of Halkbank, a public bank, was also arrested as part of the investigation. Bayraktar is being accused of taking bribes for Turkey’s gold trade with Iran, an act which was often criticized by the US in the past for allegedly violating the US embargo against Iran.

In a raid of Aslan’s house last week, the police found $4.5 million hidden in shoe boxes. According to a story in the Hürriyet daily on Monday, Aslan said the money in the shoe boxes were donations given to him for charity for the construction of Balkan University in Macedonia and a religious vocational high school in Çorum.

More to read, here.

About yavuzbaydar

Yavuz Baydar has been an award-winning Turkish journalist, whose professional activity spans nearly four decades. In December 2013, Baydar co-founded the independent media platform, P24, Punto24, to monitor the media sector of Turkey, as well as organizing surveys, and training workshops. Baydar wrote opinion columns, in Turkish, liberal daily Ozgur Dusunce and news site Haberdar, and in English, daily Today's Zaman, on domestic and foreign policy issues related to Turkey, and media matters, until all had to cease publications due to growing political oppression. Currently, he writes regular chronicles for Die Süddeutsche Zeitung, and opinion columns for the Arab Weekly, as well as analysis for Index on Censorship. Baydar blogs with the Huffington Post, sharing his his analysis and views on Turkish politics, the Middle East, Balkans, Europe, U.S-Turkish relations, human rights, free speech, press freedom, history, etc. His opinion articles appeared at the New York Times, the Guardian, El Pais, Svenska Dagbladet, and Al Jazeera English online. Turkey’s first news ombudsman, beginning at Milliyet daily in 1999, Baydar worked in the same role as reader representative until 2014. His work included reader complaints with content, and commentary on media ethics. Working in a tough professional climate had its costs: he was twice forced to leave his job, after his self-critical columns on journalistic flaws and fabricated news stories. Baydar worked as producer and news presenter in Swedish Radio &TV Corp. (SR) Stockholm, Sweden between 1979-1991; as correspondent for Scandinavia and Baltics for Turkish daily Cumhuriyet between 1980-1992, and the BBC World Service, in early 1990's. Returning to Turkey in 1994, he worked as reporter and ediytor for various outlets in print, as well as hosting debate porogrammes in public and private TV channels. Baydar studied informatics, cybernetics and, later, had his journalism ediucatiob in the University of Stockholm. Baydar served as president of the U.S. based International Organizaton of News Ombudsmen (ONO) in 2003. He was a Knight-Wallace Fellow at University of Michigan in 2004. Baydar was given the Special Award of the European Press Prize (EPP), for 'excellence in journalism', along with the Guardian and Der Spiegel in 2014. He won the Umbria Journalism Award in March 2014 and Caravella/Mare Nostrum Prize in 2015; both in Italy. Baydar completed an extensive research on self-censorship, corruption in media, and growing threats over journalism in Turkey as a Shorenstein Fellow at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.
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