Top executives arrested in Soma probe, owner allegedly sought

The general manager of the company operating the mine in Soma, Manisa province, where 301 miners died last week in the country’s worst ever mining disaster, has accused the company’s chief executive officer, who is also the son of the company owner, of forging his signature on a document amidst an investigation in which eight people have been arrested.  
Eight people were arrested on Sunday and Monday in the investigation into the mining accident, including Can Gürkan, the CEO of Soma Coal Enterprises Inc., and General Manager Ramazan Doğru, whose wife is also a board member and a Justice and Development Party (AK Party) city council member.
On Tuesday, Republican People’s Party’s (CHP) Manisa deputy Özgür Özel said in a tweet that he had unverified information suggesting that an arrest warrant had been issued for Soma Holding owner and Can Gürkan’s father, Alp Gürkan. Soma Holding owns the company that operates the mine.
Akhisar Chief Public Prosecutor Bekir Şahiner, who is conducting the investigation, said on Tuesday that 36 people had testified in the investigation, with 25 of these individuals being referred to the Soma Criminal Court of Peace. Eight had been arrested while eight others had been released by the court. Nine other individuals were released pending trial and they will have to regularly check in with their local police stations. Eleven people were earlier released by the prosecutor’s office without being referred to court.
The other detainees include the company’s operations manager, Akın Çelik, mining engineers Yalçın Erdoğan and Ertan Ersoy, shift chiefs Yasin Kurnaz and Hilmi Kazık and technician Mehmet Ali Günay Çelik.
CEO Can Gürkan was initially released but was later detained again and arrested following allegations from general manager Doğru that he had forged a company document.
Five prosecutors directed questions to those who were detained. The questions included why no measures had been taken to protect the miners in spite of alarms from carbon monoxide level sensors; if there had been any emergency shelters in the mine; whether any measures had been taken against higher carbon monoxide and heat levels as reported by the sensors in the mine; whether there had been a similar fire in the past; and what measures had been taken in case of such a fire.

CEO Gürkan and General Manager Doğru accused each other of being responsible for the accident in front of the prosecutor. Gürkan, who earlier told the press that “we will talk when the time comes,” denied any responsibility. He said all authority and responsibility lies with Doğru, showing a company document as proof.

Doğru, who had not earlier been detained, was later held after this allegation. Doğru claimed the signature that appears under his name in the document shown by Gürkan had been forged, accusing the company of trying to lay the responsibility on him. Can Gürkan was detained again after Doğru’s statement and was arrested by the prosecutor.
In another development, Turkish Mineworkers’ Union (Maden-İş) regional representative Tamer Küçükgencay, elected on May 10, held a press conference which he had to cancel abruptly and was forced to hide inside the Soma Courthouse after the audience assaulted him, accusing him of being on the company’s side.

In a related development, prosecutors investigating the managers of a coal mine where a catastrophic accident killed 301 workers and injured scores of others last week in western Manisa province’s Soma district have accused the managers of involuntary manslaughter, but legal experts say this charge is not severe enough.  

Involuntary manslaughter entails a prison sentence of two to 15 years. The charge is usually used in deadly traffic accidents.  

According to legal experts, the mine managers should stand accused of murder by “conscious negligence,” which entails a prison sentence of up to 22.5 years, or of premeditated murder, which entails a prison sentence of up to 28 years.  

Eight suspects were arrested by a court late on Monday as part of an investigation into the disaster in the Soma mine. Ramazan Doğru, general manager of Soma Kömür İşletmeleri (Soma Coal Mining Company), and CEO Can Gürkan, the son of mining company owner Alp Gürkan, were among those arrested. The arrests came after 26 people had been detained and questioned. The remaining suspects have been released but could face prosecution later.

A fire that started in the mine rapidly depleted the oxygen levels in the shaft. The cause of the fire is not yet clear.  

Republican People’s Party (CHP) deputy Özgür Özel, who has been following developments related to the mine disaster closely, told the media on Monday that people were expecting the mine managers to be charged with premeditated murder but the managers had instead been charged with involuntary manslaughter, which will lead to lower prison terms if they are convicted. “Involuntary manslaughter is usually used for deadly traffic accidents. Was the Soma mine disaster a traffic accident?” the deputy asked, calling on prosecutors involved in the disaster to revise the charges.  

Lawyer Selçuk Kozağaçlı, head of the Progressive Lawyers Association (ÇHD), said the mine officials should be charged with premeditated murder. “They caused multiple deaths from carbon monoxide poisoning. This is premeditated murder. They neglected to take workplace safety measures in order to increase coal production at the mine. The increase led to hot coal. They ignored warnings about the hot coal,” the lawyer stated. 

Hot coal is an indication that a fire is burning in some part of the mine. According to Soma miners who escaped the disaster, a fire in the mine suddenly grew to huge proportions and produced a large quantity of carbon monoxide.

Ünal Demirtaş, a lawyer for the families of 30 miners who were killed in the Karadon mine accident in Zonguldak in 2010, has claimed that mine managers attempt to influence the experts who examine such mining areas in order to evade culpability in case of an investigation. “If they manage to influence the experts [through bribery], they escape punishment in the event of an accident at the mine. The figures responsible for many mining accidents in the past escaped punishment thanks to their influence over these experts,” he stated. The lawyer also said the Soma mine disaster could have been prevented if a thorough investigation had been carried out in Karadon and the figures responsible had been punished.

According to Yılmaz Yazıcıoğlu, a professor of criminal law, the company neglected to construct emergency chambers inside the mine and forced miners to continue working underground although they knew that a fire had erupted in the mine. “In this case, the managers committed multiple murders by conscious negligence,” he said, adding that the mine had allegedly been last inspected in January. “Inspectors did not take into consideration the flaws in the mine. The fact that carbon monoxide sensors were not working properly added to the huge scale of the disaster in the mine. The inspectors should also be tried for negligence,” the professor added.  

Nurcan Çöl, a retired judge, has stated that if the mine managers neglected to take the necessary measures to prevent accidents in the mine, they should be charged with murder by conscious negligence. “There are claims that the workers were not given proper gas masks and that there was not a refuge chamber inside the mine. If these are true, then it is a fact that the managers neglected to take the required measures. And this requires them to be charged with committing murder by conscious negligence,” Çöl explained.


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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