More contractors arrested for corruption in Türkiye

More contractors arrested for corruption in Türkiye

12 Feb 2023 ( Guardian )

Turkish authorities have issued more than 100 arrest warrants over collapsed buildings, amid warnings that the death toll from the earthquake that struck parts of Turkey and Syria could double from the current tally of 33,000.

State media reported that at least 12 people were in custody, including contractors, architects and engineers connected to some of the tens of thousands of buildings destroyed or seriously damaged in Monday’s 7.8- and 7.6-magnitude quakes.

The situation in stricken north-west Syria, already ravaged by more than a decade of civil war, is increasingly desperate, the UN said, denouncing an international failure to get humanitarian aid to where it was most needed.

A fresh UN convoy of 10 trucks carrying urgent supplies of plastic sheeting, blankets, and mattresses for north-west Syria arrived via Turkey on Sunday, but the UN’s relief chief, Martin Griffiths, said far more was needed for millions of people whose homes had been destroyed.

As public anger continued to mount in Turkey at the scale of the destruction and the slow pace of rescue efforts, the arrests are likely to be seen as an attempt by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who faces tough elections in May, to deflect blame.

Turkey’s vice-president, Fuat Oktay, said on Sunday that authorities had identified 131 people suspected of being responsible for the collapse of some of the thousands of buildings flattened, and that detention orders had been issued for 113 of them.

“We will follow this up meticulously until the necessary judicial process is concluded, especially for buildings that suffered heavy damage and caused deaths and injuries,” Oktay said. Special investigation units have been set up in the 10 provinces affected.

The environment minister, Murat Kurum, said that based on an initial assessment of more than 170,000 buildings across the south of the country, 24,921 had either collapsed or were heavily damaged by the quake.

Opposition leaders have long accused Erdoğan’s government of not enforcing building regulations and of failing to account for the proceeds of a levy imposed after the 1999 İzmit earthquake to ensure apartment blocks and offices were more quake-resistant.

The president has accused his critics of lying and in remarks so far has seemed to blame fate for the disaster, saying such catastrophes “have always happened” and are “part of destiny’s plan”. He has pledged to start rebuilding within weeks.

Erdoğan has acknowledged problems with the relief effort, partly attributable to badly damaged transport links, but said the situation had been brought under control. He has called for solidarity and condemned “negative” politicking.

One of those detained, Mehmet Yasar Coskun, a contractor who built an upmarket 12-storey residential complex in Antakya that collapsed in the quakes, was seized at Istanbul airport as he was about to board a flight for Montenegro.

The residential block, which contained 249 apartments, was completed only a decade ago. Coskun told prosecutors he did not know why it had collapsed. “We fulfilled all procedures set out in legislation,” he told the state news agency, Anadolu.

Griffiths described the quake as the “worst event in 100 years in this region” and said he expected the death toll to at least double. The twin tremors rank as the world’s seventh deadliest natural disaster this century.

Officials and medics said on Sunday that 29,605 people had been reported dead in Turkey and 3,574 in Syria, bringing the confirmed combined total in both countries to 33,179. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates up to 26 million people have been affected in both countries.

The UN has said at least 870,000 people urgently need hot meals across Turkey and Syria, while in Syria alone up to 5.3 million people are reported homeless. Turkey has said 80,000 people are in hospital and more than 1 million in temporary shelters.

Tens of thousands of rescue workers continue to scour flattened neighbourhoods despite subzero winter weather, and a dwindling number of survivors are still being extracted from the rubble, some more than 140 hours after the quake.

But some aid operations have had to be suspended for security reasons and dozens of people have been arrested for looting. Clashes have been reported in some areas of southern Turkey where Kurdish militants and Syrian rebels operate.

In Hatay, Austrian soldiers and German rescue workers temporarily halted their search on Saturday, citing firing between local groups. The outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ party (PKK) has announced a temporary halt in fighting.

The situation is considered most desperate in Syria. The quake struck the rebel-controlled north-west of the country, where 90% of the population – about 4 million people – were already reliant on aid even before the disaster, and only one border crossing from Turkey, at Bab al-Hawa, is open.

“We have so far failed the people in north-west Syria,” Griffiths tweeted from the Turkey-Syria border. “They rightly feel abandoned. Looking for international help that hasn’t arrived. My duty and our obligation is to correct this failure as fast as we can.”

The WHO director general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, took a flight full of emergency medical equipment into Aleppo on Saturday and tweeted: “There are no words to express the pain they are going through.”

Earthquake aid from government-held regions into territory controlled by hardline opposition groups has been held up by approval issues with the Islamist group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), which controls much of the region, a UN spokesperson said.

HTS sources in Idlib told Reuters that shipments from government-held areas would be turned back and aid must come in from Turkey to the north. “Turkey has opened the roads, and we won’t allow the [Damascus] regime to take advantage of the situation to show they are helping,” the source said.

The EU’s envoy to Syria urged authorities in Damascus to engage “in good faith” with aid workers. “It is important to allow unimpeded access for aid to arrive in all areas where it is needed,” Dan Stoenescu said.