Turkey’s top imam says will return controversial luxury official car

Religious Affairs Directorate President Mehmet GOrmez has said his office will return a recently purchased official car which kicked off a controversy after reports emerged that it costs TL 1 million.

Speaking during a live TV program on Monday night, GOrmez denied reports that the vehicle is armored and that the reports turned into a “perception operation” to misinform the public. “We will return the vehicle to teach a lesson,” GOrmez said.

The directorate became the focus of criticism when a luxury car costing TL 1 million was purchased in December of last year for GOrmez using the budget of Turkey’s Religious Affairs Directorate Foundation (Turk Diyanet Vakfi). After the news of the purchase was spread by the media, the directorate said in a statement that the State Procurement Office purchased the car with the knowledge of the Finance Ministry.

The directorate was founded by Parliament as an official institution on March 3, 1924, after the abolition of the caliphate. It represents the highest Islamic religious authority in the country. The Diyanet is often the focus of criticism as it represents and promotes Sunni Islam and does not recognize Alevism, a religious group inside Islam. Its budget is paid through taxes received from the whole public. The report comes amidst claims of the ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AK Party) misuse of taxpayers’ money, which has recently peaked, especially with the construction of a huge colossal complex for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the founder of the AK Party. The presidential palace, which Erdogan said has more than 1,150 rooms, was built on state forest land at a cost of TL 1.37 billion, according to Finance Minister Mehmet Simsek, although critics have claimed that the total costs could be three times as high or more.