Soma Holding chairman’s estates on sale over debt default

Soma Holding chairman’s estates on sale over debt default

Neşe Karanfil - ISTANBUL
Soma Holding chairman’s estates on sale over debt default Turkey’s Savings Deposit Insurance Fund (TMSF) has opened to sale 14 immovable properties worth some 33 million Turkish Liras belonging to Soma Holding Chairman Alp Gürkan, who has failed to pay installments on his 34-million-lira debt to his workers since October 2015. Gürkan operated the controversial Soma mine during the 2014 disaster which claimed the lives of 301 miners. 

The Soma Coal Mine Company, which operated the mine in the Soma district of the Aegean province of Manisa, signed a protocol with Turkey’s Mine Workers’ Union on June 2015 and agreed to pay the severance and notice pay of a total 2,704 workers whose labor contracts were canceled. 

According to the protocol, Gürkan was supposed to start paying his debt of over 34 million liras in 23 installments in October 2015. However, the payments had not been initiated, despite a seven-month delay. 
The default on debts triggered the TMSF to open Gürkan’s 14 immovable properties to sale, and the first tender is set to take place on May 3. 

The total value of Gürkan’s real estate properties amount to some 33 million liras, over a million short of his total debt of 34.195 million liras. 

Gürkan has three condos in Istanbul’s Ortaköy neighborhood, all with views of the Bosphorus, which are worth nearly 19 million liras. The chairman also has two apartments in Istanbul’s Spine Tower worth nearly 4 million liras in addition to a 6.5 million-lira real estate in Rumelihisarı, on the coast of the Bosphorus, among others. 

Gürkan became a controversial figure following the mining disaster in Soma, which began as a fire erupted in the mine at a depth of 150 meters, on May 13, 2014. The accident claimed 301 lives, though more than 780 miners were inside the mine when the fire began during a shift change. 

An expert report prepared by seven experts from Istanbul Technical University found the Soma Coal Mine Company was at fault for forcing production, increasing production in an uncontrolled manner by not providing the necessary technical infrastructure, not conducting sufficient investments, not implementing the necessary work safety measures, not conducting a thorough risk analysis, not providing occupational health and safety and vocational training in accordance with regulations, not fulfilling internal inspections within the company as necessary, not ventilating the mine properly and not solving outstanding problems. 

Experts also stated that carbon monoxide masks suitable for the mine were not provided and that the masks which did exist were too few in number for all the miners.

Meanwhile, workers at the Yeni Çeltek mine in the Black Sea province of Amasya have temporarily halted a 10-day hunger strike after a delegation including the head of the Mineworkers Union of Turkey and Turkey’s energy and labor ministers visited the mine to negotiate with the workers, who were protesting against the closure of the mine and their assignment to the mine in Soma.

The head of mining labor union Maden-İş, Nurettin Akçul, said the workers “temporarily ended” their hunger strike after a stated promised to reopen the Yeni Çeltek mine. 

“It was promised that the mine would reopen after undergoing a renovation. Our friends trusted us and ended their protest temporarily. We [Maden-İş] will closely follow up on the promises that were made here,” Akçul told reporters, adding Labor and Social Security Ministry Undersecretary Ahmet Erdem and Turkish Coal Enterprises General Director Mustafa Aktaş were entrusted with solving the problem. 

Around 300 workers started a general strike on March 22, which was followed by a hunger strike of 220 workers on April 4, in order to protest against the closure of the mine in Amasya and their transfer to the mine in Soma. A total of 34 workers were brought to a nearby state hospital for treatment during the 10-day hunger strike.