Gendarmerie blocks entry to Erdogan’s Hacilar Bay villa site

IZMIR: The gendarmerie blocked off an area of about three kilometers in Hacilar Bay, in Izmir province, on Thursday, to allow for a viewing conducted by a commission of experts, part of a court case concerning the alleged illegal re-zoning of the area to legalize the construction of controversial villas there that are often used by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Gendarmes didn’t allow third parties, including journalists and members of civil society organizations, to enter to the area on orders from the Izmir 2nd Administrative Court. Lawyers from the Turkish Union of Engineers and Architects’ Chambers (TMMOB), a party in the case, were asked for identification in order to enter to the area, creating tension between the lawyers and gendarmes. The lawyers were later allowed to enter after the judge from the Izmir 2nd Administrative Court was called and instructed the gendarmerie to let the lawyers pass.

The villas in question, in Urla’s Zeytineli village, were allegedly transferred by Mustafa Latif Topbas, a businessman and friend of then-Prime Minister Erdogan, to the Erdogan family after Erdogan instructed the Board of Protection of Cultural and Natural Assets to ease the zoning limitation in the construction area.

The villa scandal erupted when audio recordings of incriminating phone conversations were made public in December 2013. According to these tapes, Topbas wanted to build eight villas in Zeytineli, but faced zoning restrictions, as the site was a first-degree environmentally protected zone. Topbas then allegedly asked Erdogan to intervene and change the zone to a third-degree protected zone so that he could get the necessary permits. Erdogan reportedly helped the businessman and received two villas in return.

The Izmir Chambers of City Planners, Landscape Architects, Geological Engineers and Environmental Engineers submitted a request through the TMMOB to the Izmir 2nd Administrative Court in April 2014 seeking a suspension of execution and reversal of the Board of Protection of Cultural and Natural Assets’ decision lowering the Hacilar Bay area designation to a third-degree environmentally protected zone.