Top two mining company officials arrested in Soma probe over forgery row

Top two mining company officials arrested in Soma probe over forgery row

Top two mining company officials arrested in Soma probe over forgery row

Ramazan Dogru (L), general manager of Soma Coal Mining Company (REUTERS Photo / Osman Orsal), and company CEO Can Gürkan (R - DHA Photo) enter the courthouse in Soma on May 19. (Photos are combined)

Soma Coal Mining Company CEO Can Gürkan and General Manager Ramazan Doğru were arrested late May 19 as part of a probe into last week’s mining disaster that claimed the lives of at least 301 workers amid claims of forgery.

The total tally of arrests in the investigation has risen to eight, while the two high-ranking officials of the mine operator reportedly blamed each other during their testimony to prosecutors, indicating rifts within the company.

Meanwhile, an arrest warrant has been issued May 20 for the company owner Alp Gürkan, CHP Manisa lawmaker Özgür Özel said.

"If the information I have gathered is true, an arrest warrant has been issued for Alp Gürkan. He could not be found at two addresses," he wrote on Twitter.

On May 19, Can Gürkan, the son of the company owner, was initially sent to court with prosecutors demanding his conditional release pending trial. However, prosecutors changed their request after hearing the testimony of Doğru, who was detained in the afternoon hours of May 19.

During his interrogation, Doğru accused Gürkan of forging the signatures on the documents delivered to prosecutors, changing the course of the investigation.

Officials decided to interrogate Gürkan for a second time, sending the documents for an examination. Gürkan, meanwhile, accused Doğru of lying and asserted that he carried all of the responsibility regarding the activities in the mine.

The Turkish press also reported that Doğru had refused the services of company lawyers, appointing his own attorney for his defense.

Both suspects were also questioned about the security flaws and breakdowns in the mine as described in an expert report, which showed that company officials had ignored the presence of high levels of toxic gas and the rise of the temperature inside the mine hours before the accident.

Expert report indicates series of mistakes

According to daily Hürriyet, prosecutors inquired as to why no measures were taken despite the sensors emitting warning signals regarding the rise of temperature and levels of carbon monoxide. They also questioned whether similar fires broke out in the past and what sort of safety precautions were taken in their aftermath. During their interrogation, both Gürkan and Doğru ruled out that they had committed negligence.

But the expert report included in the prosecutor’s investigation files stated the amount of carbon monoxide increased far above the recommended safety levels inside before the accident. Despite the heat increasing, the mine continued to operate, according to the report.

The prosecutor conducting the investigation, Bekir Şahiner, also said the cause of the fire at the mine was not an explosion in a power distribution unit, as had initially been announced, but due to a collapse of burning coal.

The fire in the mine started at 3:10 pm on May 13, but firefighters were only called 57 minutes after it broke out, while the 112 emergency line was called 63 minutes late, according to data collected by prosecutors.

The miners’ gas masks reportedly only worked for 45 minutes, indicating the delay in the call for help was a fatal mistake for many. In addition, some of the masks did not work, according to the prosecutor’s report.

Technician arrested

Technicians and those responsible for safety were also interrogated by prosecutors over the weekend. A technician from the mine was also arrested on May 19, in addition to: operating manager Akın Çelik, engineers Yalçın Erdoğan and Ertan Ersoy, with shift supervisors Yasin Kurnaz and Hilmi Kazık arrested a day earlier.

All of the arrested company officials were charged with “causing multiples cases of death by negligence,” prosecutor Şahiner said.

Last week’s accident was the worst of its kind in Turkey’s history and has triggered massive criticism over the conditions of workers and the standards of safety in mines.