Turkey confirms foreign investor purchases along Kanal Istanbul project path

Turkey’s Ministry of Environment and Urban Planning has confirmed the purchase of land along the path of Kanal Istanbul, a proposed artificial waterway project championed by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, by foreign investors amounting to 79 hectares.

Minister Murat Kurum announced the land purchases in a response to a written inquiry by Istanbul deputy for the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) Özgür Karabat, revealing that the purchases were made before the project was officially announced, Sözcü newspaper reported on Saturday.

“Foreign-capital companies in Turkey have purchased 791,370 square metres of real estate in districts that the Kanal Istanbul project passes through, according to land registry and cadastre information system records,” Kurum said.

Karabat said recent restrictions on municipalities’ authority to inquire about land ownership data were connected to opposition to the mega project and discussions on profiteering along the canal’s path.

“We have found that deed information on certain plots along the canal project’s path had been classified or left empty before these restrictions were put in place,” Karabat told Sözcü. “This has increased concerns that the canal project is focused on profiteering rather than the public service it has been presented as.”

Until recently, municipalities had the authority to inquire about deed information and see recent changes in ownership as part of a protocol with the ministry. With recent changes, which were enacted after CHP’s Ekrem İmamoğlu won the mayoral seat in Istanbul in 2019 - ending two decades of conservative mayors running under the ruling Justice and Development Party and its predecessors - they can only inquire if the ministry approves their request.

“Is the annulment of the TAKPAS protocol connected to the fact that investors buying up land along the path of Kanal Istanbul via information gathered through the protocol, and that an ownership map in the project region was made public?” asked Karabat in his inquiry.

The CHP deputy also pointed to frequent advertising for land sales along the project path in Arabic-language media since 2015.

Minister Kurum said the land registry records had not been obscured.

“As per the Personal Data Protection Act, our ministry is responsible for the data. The TAKPAS land registry sharing system has been revised accordingly,” Kurum said in his response. “It was not considered harmful to share data, and no data has been obscured. There has merely been a change in the platform for how the service is provided.”