Istanbul’s new mayor signals oversight of funds transferred to foundations affiliated with Erdoğan's family

The newly-declared opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) mayor of Istanbul Ekrem İmamoğlu has suggested that he will shed light on and put a stop to municipality funds transferred to organisations affiliated to Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), Deutsche Welle Turkish said on Friday.

“The time of serving ‘the man’, associations, persons, foundations, and religious groups has ended,” said İmamoğlu four days after local polls on March 31. “We will start such a transparent administration that, everything, including my mayorship will be made public,” he said.

Since then, İmamoğlu’s supporters have repeated his words that signal an end to the large amounts of funds provided to AKP-affiliated foundations and associations from the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality (IBB) over the years, which according to reports have totalled some 847.5 million lira ($145.9 billion).

The IBB’s budget and the vast amounts it has transferred to charitable foundations have been widely discussed since March 31, with analysts saying that losing the municipality’s resources is a huge blow for the AKP.

Tarik Balyalı, the head of the CHP’s IBB assembly group provided DW a 2018 report prepared by the municipality detailing the funds allocated to charities, saying it was never submitted to the assembly for review.

According to the report, TÜGVA, an educational foundation, ranks first among organisations receiving IBB funds, receiving 74,3 million lira ($13.2 million). Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s son Bilal Erdoğan sits on the High Consultation Committee of the foundation

TÜRGEV, another educational foundation, comes second with 51,5 million lira ($ 9.1 million) transferred from the municipality. Bilal Erdoğan is also among the founders of TÜRGEV and Turkish president’s daughter Esra Albayrak currently sits on its executive board. The AKP’s Mevlüt Uysal, who served as mayor of Istanbul following the resignation of Kadir Topbaş, is also a member of TÜRGEV’s executive board.

Turkey Technology Team, which is headed by Erdoğan’s son -in-law Selçuk Bayraktar, and the Chief Technology Officer (CTO) Baykar Makina that produces drones for the Turkish military, follows those two educational organisations with 41.1 million lira ($7 million). The organisation aims to contribute Turkey’s efforts to increase its competitiveness in high-technology products.

Some 29.7 million lira ($5.1 million) have been transferred to Ensar Foundation, a religious organisation that provides dorms and education for children, which was embroiled in a child abuse scandal. The foundation also signed a protocol with Turkish Education Ministry, after one of its teachers was accused of raping at least 45 children in an illegal student housing facility made national headlines in Turkey in 2016.

Another of Bilal Eroğan’s projects, the archery training Okçular Foundation, received an amount of 16,64 lira ($2.95 million), while the Aziz Mahmut Hüdayi Foundation, whose head, Ahmet Hamdi Topbaş, is the brother of former AKP mayor of Istanbul Kadir Topbaş, enjoyed a total amount of 16.5 million lira ($2.8 million lira).

According to CHP’s Balyalı, the transfer of funds to charity organisations is permitted according to the law, yet, the practice in Istanbul is questionable as the largest amount of funds have been transferred to foundations linked to Erdoğan and the AKP.

The IBB from now on will have a more transparent administration that will allow access to information on additional funds that were transferred to other organisations and people, Balyalı told DW.