CHP head slams suspension of Istanbul district mayor as ‘character assassination’

CHP head slams suspension of Istanbul district mayor as ‘character assassination’

CHP head slams suspension of Istanbul district mayor as ‘character assassination’

Main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu has slammed the suspension of a CHP Istanbul district mayor, saying the move amounts to a “character assassination.”

Battal İlgezdi, the mayor of Istanbul’s Ataşehir district, was suspended by the Interior Ministry on Dec. 8 over corruption allegations, prompting fury within the CHP.

“They are apparently trying to intimidate us. But there is no way you can scare us,” Kılıçdaroğlu said in front of the Ataşehir Municipality building on Dec. 9, adding that İlgezdi was acquitted of corruption charges before.

“We have no further account to give. Our mayor previously applied to the prosecutor’s office asking for an investigation to be carried out following media reports and my own request. He was acquitted in the subsequent investigations. What is happening now is an attempted character assassination. They want to intimidate us, but we won’t give up,” he also said.

“I’m calling on them. We are not the party you think we are. We are not a party formed while sitting around a table. We defend the law and rights. There is no way you can harm us even if you approach us with all your power. They think we will take a step back after this,” Kılıçdaroğlu added.

During his speech, the CHP head again mentioned documents recently presented by his party, which allegedly reveal that President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s close circle - including his brother, his son and his executive assistant – made transactions worth around $15 million to an off-shore company called Bellway Limited in the tax haven Isle of Man between December 2011 and January 2012.

“Why don’t they face us instead of perverting the law? They should account for the documents we showed them. Did our mayors and their relatives found companies in the Isle of Man? All of their [the mayors’] bank accounts, credit cards and shopping expenses were audited. We are not afraid of being audited. But we are against dignity assassinations and will never stand for them,” Kılıçdaroğlu said, adding that “a peaceful state complete with media freedom cannot exist in places that lack justice.”

“Mayors can’t fulfill their duties freely without justice. Resisting oppression suits us the most. The point we reached shows us a new process. We are struggling for democracy and justice. We will ensure that law and rights are upheld in this country. You will own up to the mayor you elected despite external pressures. You won’t surrender to oppression,” he added.

Turning to the recent resignations of several mayors from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) upon the president’s request, Kılıçdaroğlu said CHP mayors are “not like theirs.”

“Our mayors won’t leave their posts crying. They won’t resign. Because we can give an account of every penny they have spent,” he said.

In addition, Kılıçdaroğlu also slammed the government over Turkish-Iranian businessman Reza Zarrab, questioning “why nothing has been done to political figures related to Zarrab.”

Zarrab’s name was implicated in Turkey’s Dec. 17-25, 2013 corruption probes, which also embroiled four former ministers and other state officials. Zarrab was accused of paying bribes to senior government figures, but eventually the charges were quashed by the government, which said the probe was masterminded by followers of the U.S.-based Islamic preacher Fethullah Gülen.

Zarrab was arrested in the U.S. last year but has since become the prosecution’s top witness in the trial. Former Halkbank deputy general manager Mehmet Hakan Atilla is now the sole man in the dock accused of violating sanctions, bribery and money laundering.

While questioning the reason behind the closure of the Zarrab case in Turkey, Kılıçdaroğlu said “those linked to Zarrab must account for their actions.”

Speaking from the Ataşehir Municipality building alongside Kılıçdaroğlu, lawyer İnan Bektaş said “there is no legal basis for the suspension of İlgezdi, which was carried out for political reasons.”

The Interior Ministry released a statement shortly after Kılıçdaroğlu’s speech, stating that the decision to suspend İlgezdi was “given in an objective manner.”

“Our ministry made its decision regarding Ataşehir Municipality officials in line with objective legal rules, justice and rights, as it does for all municipalities,” the ministry stated on Dec. 9.

Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) head Devlet Bahçeli also commented on the suspension, saying the MHP does “not have sufficient faults to warrant such an investigation.”

Meanwhile, the Interior Ministry has reportedly launched “special inspections” in the CHP-run municipalities of Beşiktaş and Şişli in Istanbul and the southwest province of Muğla.

Two inspectors each were sent to these municipalities and a decision will be made whether to carry out suspensions or not depending on the inspection report, sources told daily Hürriyet.

The ministry is also set to decide on whether to launch further “special inspections” of six CHP and two AKP municipalities.

The Interior Ministry previously removed 93 mayors from duty over their alleged links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and eight mayors over reported connections to the Fethullahist Terrorist Organization (FETÖ), believed to have been behind the 2016 coup attempt.