Five arrested as part of probe into Soma mine disaster

Five arrested as part of probe into Soma mine disaster

MANİSA - Doğan News Agency
Five arrested as part of probe into Soma mine disaster

The entrance of the Soma mine has been closed with a brick wall on May 18. AA Photo

Five officials the company operating the Soma mine have been arrested upon a court decision late May 18 as part of the ongoing probe into last week’s tragic accident that claimed the lives of 301 workers.

Soma Coal Mining Company operating manager Akın Çelik, engineers Yalçın Erdoğan and Ertan Ersoy, and shift supervisors Yasin Kurnaz and Hilmi Kazık have been arrested overnight after long hours of interrogation.

Çelik was one of the high-ranking officials who participated to the company's press statement on May 16 along with the owner, Alp Gürkan. Other 8 people were released on probation pending trial while six other suspects are expected to be sent to court on May 19. Three people were released without charges.

Chief Prosecutor Bekir Şahiner said those detained were charged with "causing multiples cases of death by negligence."

The 25 people taken to custody upon prosecutors' order included Can Gürkan, CEO of the group and son of the company’s owner, Doğan News Agency reported.

However the owner Alp Gürkan, as well as the company's chief operating manager, Ramazan Doğru, are not included in the list of the suspects, said Sezgin Tanrıkulu, a deputy from the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP).

Those also marked the first detentions since the tragic accident on May 13, with the public pressure growing over the authorities' mishandling of the accident.

Özgür Özel, another CHP deputy, criticized the type of the prosecution's charge. "This is a charge for a traffic crime. Suspects should have been charged with reckless homicide instead, which would allow the judge to jail them for up to 25 years," Özel said.

Explosion of power distirbution unit ruled out

Şahiner also said that the cause of the fire at the Soma mine was not an explosion in a power distribution unit, as it was announced after the accident. Citing an initial expert record, he said that fire erupted after the oxidation of coal.

Earlier, the entrance of the mine has been closed with a brick wall, after the authorities called for an end to rescue works.

All mining activities have also been halted, upon a decision by the Turkish Labor Inspection Board. Only inspectors and prosecutors investigating the accident are now allowed to enter the vicinity of the mine.

Company head to be tried for fraud

Meanwhile, a lawsuit against Alp Gürkan, the head of Soma Coal Mine Company, has been opened on fraud charges, daily Hürriyet reported. Prosecutors are demanding a prison term from six to 18 years in the case, which is separate from the probe into the mine disaster.

The indictment prepared by the Istanbul Public Prosecutor’s Office demands to try Gürkan on charges of being a member of a criminal organization founded by businessman Korkmaz Yiğit, and being involved in a fraudulent bankruptcy.

Some 17 suspects, including Gürkan, reportedly bought property in the Avcılar, Ispartakule, Tahtakale neighborhoods of Istanbul on behalf of Korkmaz Yiğit. All suspects, including Gürkan, are expected to stand trial next month at the Istanbul 12th High Criminal Court.