Istanbul's opposition mayor cancels over $ 60 million in support for AKP-linked foundations

The Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality (İBB), under the leadership of opposition mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu, has cancelled deals with six foundations linked to the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) amid an investigation into municipal expenditure.

The decision by the IBB to annul agreements with the educational and religious foundations arrives following reports showing the previous AKP municipality had spent 357 million lira ($ 61.2 million) to date from its municipal budget on foundations alone, independent news site T24 said. 

Accordingly, the deals with the Ensar Foundation, TÜRGEV, Aziz Mahmud Hüdayi Foundationı TÜGVA, Daru’l Fünun Theology Foundation and the Hoca Ahmet Yesevi Foundation have been cancelled.

The main opposition Republican People’s Party’s (CHP) Istanbul mayor İmamoğlu, since stepping into office in June, has increasingly put under the spotlight the extravagant spending by the İBB and the vast amounts it has transferred to charitable foundations during the quarter of a century of Islamist rule in the city.

The AKP’s funding for charitable foundations made headlines as Turkey geared up for municipal elections at the beginning of the year. A report compiled by the Istanbul municipality in January showed that 848 million liras ($ 145.6 million) had been transferred to a list of foundations during the previous two-years of the AKP-led administration.

TÜGVA, which received the largest share of municipal funding according to this year’s report with 74.3 million liras, includes Erdoğan’s son Bilal Erdoğan on its high advisory board.

TÜRGEV, which the report said had received 51.6 million liras from the Istanbul municipality, was founded by President Erdoğan in 1996, and is now guided by his daughter, Esra Erdoğan, who sits on the foundation’s executive board.

The Ensar foundation has been favoured by the AKP government, which has continued to fund the foundation’s student accommodation projects and employ its teachers to teach religious education classes despite a sexual abuse scandal in 2016, when it was revealed that a teacher had abused 45 children staying at an Ensar dormitory.

The Aziz Mahmut Hüdayi Foundation is headed by Ahmet Hamdi Topbaş, the brother of former AKP mayor of Istanbul Kadir Topbaş.

‘’Preliminary findings show financial cooperation between the municipality and the foundations in areas that include dormitory construction, building rentals, renovations, transportation, food, etc.,’’ the İBB said. 

‘‘Until today, a total of 190 million ($32.6 million) was paid to foundations for renovations and catering; we would like to present to the public that the transportation and food expenditures of one foundation alone cost the İBB 56.5 million lira ($9.7 million),’’ it added.  

İmamoğlu, whose CHP ran a campaign that focused on waste at AKP-led municipalities, said the initial cuts would be followed by more.

“We’re just at the beginning ... We’ve put an end to 357 million liras of funding,” İmamoğlu said.

As well as monetary donations, the Istanbul municipality has handed over buildings to the foundations and made land available to them for building projects.

“Where has the people’s money been spent? A building is constructed for 165 million liras, that building is now the property of the people of Istanbul. This is just the beginning”, İmamoğlu said.

The annual budget of the IBB for 2019 is 23.8 billion liras ($4.2 million) with the equivalent of 3.2 billion lira ($569 million) coming from the budget would come from domestic and foreign loans and 15.5 billion lira ($ 2.76 billion) from the central government's budget.