Four arrested over elevator disaster at Istanbul construction site

Four arrested over elevator disaster at Istanbul construction site

Four arrested over elevator disaster at Istanbul construction site

The accident has brought scrutiny over the lack of safety in the sector. DHA Photo

Four people including two senior managers were arrested early yesterday in connection with the elevator collapse in a central Istanbul construction site last weekend that cost the lives of 10 workers and brought scrutiny over the lack of safety in the sector.

An Istanbul court ordered the arrest of site manager Önder Türksoy, project director Murat Aytimur, as well as elevator technicians Adem Akyıldız and Turgay Dalkılıç on charges of “reckless homicide.”

They are the first arrests of the investigation launched into the disaster, which took place at the worksite of a highly promoted tower built in one of the busiest and most lucrative locations in Istanbul. Two other suspects were released pending trial.

Despite major public outcry, the construction company, Torunlar, has denied any responsibility for the accident. In their testimonies, workers said the elevator broke down two months ago and had not been repaired, despite their repeated warnings regarding the risks. But Torunlar rejected all claims regarding the lack of elevator maintenance, placing the blame on the elevator company and the workers themselves.

All work was indefinitely suspended at the site following the launch of the investigation. The incident has also thrown into the spotlight the human price of the construction boom, particularly in Istanbul, home to hundreds of new urban transformation projects, such as huge residential complexes, often with their own shopping centers.

In the meantime, Torunlar had enjoyed a tax exemption of 10 million Turkish Liras for its project in which the 10 workers were killed Sept. 6, because the land is owned by TOKİ, the state-run former contractor. Despite TOKİ owning the land, Torunlar is performing the construction and will be obliged to pay 10 million liras’ of taxes when it takes the land’s register from TOKİ.

The repercussions of the elevator collapse have recently shifted focus to general weaknesses in the sector.

Labor Minister Faruk Çelik, who has come under fire for government negligence regarding labor safety, said those responsible for the accident were “clear” and “nobody can throw the ball into the other’s court.”  

“When the elevator tragedy happened, all eyes turned to us, naturally. But by its nature, this issue concerns a lot of institutions, including us, the Environment and Urban Planning Ministry, the Industry Ministry, municipalities and building control surveyors,” Çelik said.

Former Environment and Urban Planning Minister Erdoğan Bayraktar, who resigned after he was announced among the suspects of the Dec. 17, 2013 graft probe, also joined the debate, saying he had initiated a new land settlement regulation that would relieve construction congestion, but his efforts were thwarted.

“The reason behind the land settlement congestion in cities is the land settlement regulation,” said Bayraktar, who also served at the helm of TOKİ, in an interview with Hürriyet.

“We prepared a [new] regulation for this, and I was taken down by it. They collapsed my world around me, and they delayed it [the regulation],” he added.

Bayraktar said the initiative was blocked because of the “lobbying by those who earn without working.” “We wanted the money earned from settlement gains to go to the municipalities’ cashboxes,” he said.