ErdoIan spends vacation in controversial Urla villas

ISTANBUL (CIHAN)- Prime Minister and President-elect Recep Tayyip ErdoIan and his family have been on vacation recently in their controversial villas in the Urla district of Izmir province that were allegedly built in an environmentally protected zone, according to the Hurriyet daily.

The Urla villas came to public attention early this year following the exposure of a graft probe in which senior government members have been implicated. According to alleged phone conversations which surfaced in the media in January, a businessman close to ErdoIan, Mustafa Latif TopbaI, decided to build eight luxury villas near the village of Zeytineli in Urla but was denied a building 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 that he could get the permits he needed. The prime minister allegedly helped the businessman and reportedly received two villas from him in return.

Details of phone conversations apparently between TopbaI and the prime minister’s daughter also made their way into the media. In a conversation between ErdoIan’s daughter Sumeyye and TopbaI, she tells the businessman 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. TopbaI then told Sumeyye that he could visit the ErdoIan family at their residence later in the day to discuss their suggested changes, according to the alleged conversations.

Hurriyet reported on Thursday that following his election to the presidency in the Aug. 10 election, ErdoIan and his family took a vacation in the Urla villas of HacIlar Bay in Zeytineli.

According to the daily, ErdoIan was also accompanied by Binali YIldIrIm, a senior government official who served as transportation minister until March’s local elections, businessman TopbaI and Hamdi BoyacI, a local businessman and friend of ErdoIan.

Hurriyet said that ErdoIan has been enjoying a rest in HacIlar Bay for the past three days while also working on the last version of the Cabinet. ErdoIan has not still left his post as prime minister, despite being elected to the presidency. He has been accused of violating the Constitution by not cutting his ties with the Prime Ministry and his political party after having been elected to the top state post.

At a Central Executive Board (MYK) meeting of his party to be held on Aug. 27, ErdoIan will announce the new prime minister and Cabinet.

The prime minister ended his vacation in Urla on Thursday, according to the daily.

In a report on the Dec. 17 and Dec. 25 corruption probes, the Cumhuriyet daily alleged earlier this month that TopbaI, a close personal friend of ErdoIan, had bribed local authorities and even coaxed ErdoIan to sack some of them who were “not helpful.” The daily cited five separate phone recordings related to the Dec. 25 corruption probe that reveal intense lobbying between TopbaI, his aiser in the field and separate state officials and academics behind closed doors.

The Cumhuriyet report mentioned that an Izmir court had ordered a halt to the construction of the eight villas in Urla on Dec. 31, 2012 and demanded that the existing buildings be demolished. Izmir Governor Cahit KIra also ordered the villas — which were still under construction — to be demolished, in agreement with the court. On Jan. 5, 2013, TopbaI called ErdoIan to ask that “something be done” about Governor KIra. Four months later, KIra was sacked.

TopbaI’s next target was the head of the Ministry of Environment and Urban Development’s Izmir office, Fethi IahinoIlu, who TopbaI claimed in the phone recordings was “reluctant to cooperate.” Meanwhile, the construction of the villas continued as planned, and TopbaI called ErdoIan again on Sept. 13, 2013. IahinoIlu was sacked five months later.

Encouraged by ErdoIan’s full support, the report says, TopbaI then moved to find “suitable” academics to issue an environmental impact report (ED) to change the first-degree protected zone in Urla to a third-degree protected zone. TopbaI asked his aiser OIuzhan BoyacI to help solve the issue. BoyacI convinced five academics to issue the report after TopbaI agreed to bribe them TL 130,000 in total. The final step was finding a solution to another problem: historical mosaic artifacts on the land. These mosaics cannot be removed and carried elsewhere, according to the laws regulating historical heritage items.

TopbaI called Culture and Tourism Minister mer elik and asked him to help solve the issue. The recordings say that a few days after elik called TopbaI, the mosaics were removed. The construction of the controversial villas was recently completed.

ErdoIan has claimed that the villas on the site had been built almost 35 years before the decision to declare the area a protected zone, but satellite imagery accessible via Google Earth contradicts ErdoIan’s claims, proving that the area was empty only two years ago.