Turkey’s Interior Ministry investigating opposition mayors over COVID-19 aid

Turkey’s Interior Ministry has opened an investigation into Istanbul Mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu and Ankara Mayor Mansur Yavaş over COVID-19 aid campaigns launched by their municipalities. Both mayors belong to the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP).

The Interior Ministry blocked municipal COVID-19 aid campaigns on March 31 after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan launched a nationwide fundraising campaign to help low-income Turks during the outbreak. Erdoğan has accused opposition-run municipalities of attempting to form a parallel state by launching charity drives.

“The Interior Minister launched a probe into the process of collecting donations. An inspector is carrying out the investigation,” İmamoğlu told Sözcü newspaper on Friday, adding that the investigation was opened on April 10.

İmamoğlu said that a similar investigation had been opened against Yavaş in Ankara.

“You can launch investigations, but blocking money that belongs to the citizens is a pitiful and miserable attitude. Whoever ordered this is also a part of this misery,” İmamoğlu said.

İmamoğlu called for the release of 900,000 Turkish liras ($130,000) of donated funds that had been confiscated and held by the state-owned Vakıfbank.

“The blockage is ongoing and we have filed a legal application. The court asked for a response from the governor’s office and they were given 15 days to respond. The time has not expired yet. This issue will be resolved eventually. What the banks are doing now is illegal and done out of fear. This is a black mark in the history of banking,” İmamoğlu said.

İmamoğlu also told Sözcü that the government had prevented them from handing out face masks to protect the public against the coronavirus. 

The burden on the post office for distributing masks was too great, İmamoğlu said, and that the government should make use of the municipalities to hand them out. “Let us on the field distribute them to our citizens,” he said.

Tensions between Erdoğan's ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and major provinces run by CHP mayors have risen over the past few weeks during the coronavirus outbreak. 

İmamoğlu has accused the government of not working with the city’s municipality in its efforts against the coronavirus outbreak. He said it had also failed to inform him of major decisions - such as the last-minute imposition of a weekend curfew a week ago - and of ignoring his calls for a stronger lockdown.