Locals request detention of lawyers during urla inspection

A group of lawyers’ inspection of an area in Izmir’s urla district where Prime Minister Recep Tayyip ErdoGan allegedly owns villas led to a tense situation in which locals asked security forces to detain the lawyers on saturday.

The group of 20 lawyers was investigating unverified allegations that ErdoGan had accepted two villas from a businessman in return for easing zoning restrictions in Izmir’s urla district. Following a meeting on environmental issues in Izmir’s seferihisar district, the lawyers, members of the Environment and urban Law Commission of the Turkish Bar Association (TBB), went to inspect the Bay of Hacilar. After taking photos of the area, which includes the controversial villas, the lawyers were stopped by two villagers who claimed to be the owners of the property. Following an argument with the lawyers, one of the villagers, OGuzhan Boyaci, called the gendarmerie and complained that the lawyers had insulted him and the prime minister.

The gendarmes who stopped the lawyers at the exit of the village wanted to detain four of them for violating the privacy of the residents. stating that they were lawyers, the group said that the officers had no right to detain them, as doing so requires the supervision of a prosecutor.

Failing to detain the lawyers, the gendarmes filed a report on them after the two villagers claimed the lawyers insulted and spat on them.

In return, lawyers Bulent TokucoGlu, Bedrettin Kalan and safiye Yuksel filed a complaint against the villagers for insulting them and damaging their vehicles.

TokucoGlu said they went to the area both as the lawyers of plaintiffs who had opened legal cases regarding the area and as members of the aforementioned commission. “We completed necessary inspections for the case, but we were stopped on our way back,” TokucoGlu stated, adding that they will follow up with due process.

According to phone conversations leaked to the media in recent months, a businessman who wanted to build eight villas near the village of Zeytineli in urla was denied the permit, as the area was a first-degree environmentally protected zone. The businessman asked the prime minister to change the zone to a third-degree protected zone so he could get the permits he needed. The prime minister allegedly helped the businessman and reportedly received two villas from him in return.

In another wiretapped phone conversation, General Director of the Protection of Natural Heritage Agency Osman Iyimaya is said to be heard suggesting appealing to an administrative court to reduce the degree of the protected zone. Allegedly, he also recommends asking university professors to prepare a report on the protected area. Reports say Iyimaya and five university professors were paid TL 130,000 to prepare a misleading report about the area, where the villas were erected on protected land.

Izmir Province General Assembly President serdar DeGirmenci said that in February 2012, the Izmir provincial council decided to demolish several villas that had been constructed on a first-degree environmentally protected zone in urla; however, the decision has not yet been acted upon. DeGirmenci said that 16 villas had been illegally constructed by a bay near Zeytineli village.

“It has been claimed that two of those villas belong to the prime minister; it can be heard on tapes released on the Internet that the prime minister stepped in to change the first-degree environmentally protected zone [where the villas are located] to a third-degree protected zone. I am not sure whether it is true or not, but as this zone is within the area of responsibility of the special provincial administration and the Izmir Province General Assembly, I know some details about it.”

In phone conversations that took place between the prime minister and businessman Mustafa Latif Topbas, ErdoGan allegedly asks Topbas about the construction of the villas. In the conversation, which took place on Aug. 15, 2013, the prime minister allegedly asks the businessman to finish the villas soon. In a conversation allegedly between ErdoGan’s daughter sumeyye ErdoGan and Topbas, the voice attributed to the former says that she and her mother had taken a look at the construction plans for the villas and liked two of them, but wanted to make some changes to the plans. Topbas then allegedly told sumeyye that he might visit the ErdoGan family at their residence later that day to discuss their suggested changes.

ErdoGan has denied that the villas belong to him, stating they belong to his long-time friend Topbas.