Turkish court halts new Istanbul mayor’s order to copy municipality database

A Turkish administrative court on Friday halted an order from Istanbul’s new mayor, Ekrem İmamoğlu’s, to copy the database of the municipality and its associated companies, Habertürk reported

İmamoğlu narrowly won control of Turkey's biggest city and economic powerhouse on March 31 and officially took office on Wednesday, seemingly ending the 25-year rule over the city of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its Islamist predecessors.

Many in Turkey speculated after the March 31 elections that the ruling party was worried about possible corruption investigations that could be launched when the opposition took control of the Istanbul municipality, which manages an annual budget of 23.8 billion lira ($4.2 million) in 2019.

On Thursday, his first day as mayor, İmamoğlu ordered a copy to be made of the municipality databases. A five-member team including three experts outside the municipality staff was put together for the task. 

Abdullah Güler, a deputy of the AKP said on late Thursday that by doing so İmamoğlu had risked allowing terrorist organisations access to sensitive information belonging to the municipality. 

“İmamoğlu wrote an official letter ordering the database of the whole municipality to be copied by three people who have never been subject to security clearance inquiry,” Güler said during an interview with pro-government news channel A Haber. 

“I think he committed a crime. According to law, seizing personal information is a crime. The corresponding punishment is two to up to four years in jail,” Güler said. 

“We are here talking about someone whose mandate is still in question,” Güler said referring to the AKP’s appeal to the Supreme Election Council for the annulment of the Istanbul vote.

The politician said that as a result of İmamoğlu’s order, Gülen movement, a religious group Turkish government accuses of orchestrating a coup attempt in 2016, and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) could access sensitive information. 

“This is only an order that aims to keep the memory of Istanbul inside the institution in accordance with the law,” İmamoğlu told reporters on Friday. İstanbul Metropolitan Municipality said in a written statement that the information copied would be kept inside the institution. 

A senior government official, who declined to be named, told Habertürk that the order was illegal, as people who do not have security clearance cannot be allowed to access data that could risk the security of the state. 

“It is obvious that the copying of all electronic databases and infrastructure by people outside the institution will serve personal, political, and even commercial purposes,” the official said.

Two AKP members of the metropolitan municipality council appealed the order on Friday filing a complaint to an administrative court in Istanbul. One of the complainants was Yükel Akyol, the head of municipality’s public works commission, Sputnik Türkiye reported.

The court halted the order without asking for a defence from the municipality and demanded from it an explanation for the move. 

İmamoğlu on Thursday also asked the municipality’s associated companies to hand over several records documenting their activities between March 31 and April 18, Habertürk said. The requested information includes financial statements, budget charts, registered and unregistered real estate.