Charitable foundations close to Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his family received some 847 million lira ($145million) in the past year and a half prior to the recent local government elections.
According to a news report by the Deutsche Welle (DW) Turkish service on Friday, the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality transferred 847 million lira in the past one and a half years to the foundations.
This came before the main opposition secularist Republican People’s Party (CHP)’s mayoral candidate Ekrem Imamoglu took office as Istanbul’s mayor on Wednesday.
Imamoglu won March 31 local government polls for and was officially declared mayor 17 days after defeating the Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) Binali Yildirim, following vote recounts after AKP appeals.
On April 4, Imamoglu referred to the municipal funds transferred to people, foundations and religious communities close to Erdogan and his family during a press statement.
“The time to serve the man [Erdogan] and foundations, people and religious communities [close to Erdogan] is over. There will be such a transparent administration that even my office will be in the public eye,” he said, addressing municipal officers.
An audit report made public by Tarik Balyali, a councilor for the CHP, has revealed that a total of 847,592,858 TL was transferred to the foundations affiliated with President Erdogan and his family in the one and a half years prior to the March 31 poll.
In the report titled “NGO-School-Dormitory 2018,” which was not presented to the municipal council, the funds are shown to be sent under categories such as rent, transportation, maintenance and repair, supplies, catering, and travel.
The Turkey Youth Foundation (TUGVA), of which President Erdogan’s son Bilal Erdogan is a High Advisory Board member, is according to the report one of the leading recipients. This foundations allegedly received municipal funds worth 74,3 million lira.
Turkish Youth and Education Service Foundation (TURGEV), one of the founders of which is also Bilal Erdogan, closely follows the TUGVA, receiving 51,593,44 lira according to the report.
The foundation was established in 1996, operating in Istanbul as the Istanbul Youth and Educational Service Foundation (ISEGEV). Its name was changed to TURGEV in 2012 following a cabinet decision that allowed the foundation to be exempt from taxation in 2011.
Among the current administration board members of TURGEV is Erdogan’s daughter Esra Albayrak, who is also the wife of Turkey’s Finance Minister Berat Albayrak, and former Istanbul Municipality Mayor Mevlut Uysal.
TURGEV is followed by Turkey Technology Team Foundation (T3 Foundation), the High Advisory Board chairman of which is Erdogan’s son-in-law Selcuk Bayraktar, which allegedly received 41.1 million lira according to the report.
Bilal Erdogan in the spotlight again
In December 2013, Bilal Erdogan was charged with being involved in a large scale corruption at the foundation, with sizable donations that reportedly went straight to the president’s son.
The investigation into the corruption charges stopped in 2014, after the ruling AKP transferred prosecutors and judges involved in the graft probe, saying they are linked with the Gulen Movement, a religious organization which the government of President Erdogan has outlawed.
According to the report, Ensar Foundation, which provides religious education and accommodation for Turkish students, received 29,797,240 lira from the municipal fund.
In 2016, the foundation was involved in a child abuse scandal. A teacher in its employ was charged with the sexual abuse of 45 young children who had been staying in the foundation’s accommodation in Karaman province.
Erdogan’s son Bilal is also a High Advisory Board member of the Archers’ Foundation, which revealed to have taken 16.6 million lira worth of financial support from the municipality.
Ahmet Hamdi Topbas, another figure known for his close links to President Erdogan who is also the brother of former Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality Mayor Kadir Topbas, chairs Aziz Mahmut Hudayi Foundation that received 16.5 million lira from the municipal fund.
Topbas’ foundation, which is affiliated with the Erenkoy religious community, is revealed to have transferred its donations to Swiss accounts, according to a news report on Panama Papers in Cumhuriyet daily in 2016.
The report also revealed two offshore shell companies registered to the Topbas family.
Balyalı spoke to DW Turkish about the audit report and said that while there is nothing illegal about the funds transferred to the foundations, what’s extraordinary about the situation is that all of the foundations on the report are somehow connected to Erdogan or his family members.
New Istanbul Mayor Imamoglu has said he is determined to expose further data on the expenses of the municipal administration during the time when it was run by the AKP, Balyalı also stated.
Following the release of audit reports in October 2018, which revealed 753 million lira worth of alleged wrongdoings and illicit spending in 2017, a group of CHP members filed criminal complaints against former mayors Kadir Topbas and Mevlut Uysal from the governing AKP.