Scrutiny of Istanbul’s books could expose vast corruption -- NY Times

Even as the vote for Istanbul’s next mayor remains unsettled, the main opposition candidate and apparent winner is calling for an independent audit of the city’s books, potentially exposing the vast alleged corruption of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s ruling party, the New York Times reported on Wednesday.

Erdoğan and his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) have been in control of the city since 2002, and analysts and opponents say they have warped the economy through kickbacks and crony schemes, according to the newspaper.

As the AKP is demanding a recount of Sunday’s vote in Istanbul, and challenging its loss in Ankara as well, Ekrem İmamoğlu, the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) candidate for Istanbul mayor, who is officially ahead by some 25,000 votes, suspected a delaying tactic.

“At a news briefing on Wednesday, he said the party was trying to erase town hall records from computers before he takes over and brings in independent auditors to examine the city’s books,” said the New York Times. “His promise of an audit dramatically raises the stakes for Mr. Erdoğan, who was confronted with a stunning electoral defeat Sunday night.”

İmamoğlu said he had evidence that the Istanbul municipality had applied to a technical company for help in deleting data from its computers, and on Tuesday appealed to city workers to not destroy government property.

“There are many issues,” he said. “When the day comes, once authorised, we will go there and we will start sharing them with the public.”

İmamoğlu said he wants the audit to examine the municipality’s budget as well as private companies that serve its subsidiaries and partners. He accused the AKP of playing for time to clean traces of their misdeeds. He promised new rules of transparency and international standards of accounting when he took over.

“This process here absolutely requires transparency,” he told a news briefing on Monday. “If you are going to govern Istanbul, which is a city of 16 million, you have to develop an exemplary model, and this is what I am aiming for.”

“This is the soft belly of AKP,” Bahadir Özgür, a business columnist, wrote Tuesday in the online newspaper Gazete Duvar. The “AKP-style municipal work” would end, he said, once auditors entered town halls and “expose how much money was transferred to whom; whose relative, brother, uncle won which bid.”

Turkey’s election board has yet to certify the results of Sunday’s election, which could take a week or more. But İmamoğlu has called for a swift declaration of the results.

“We want justice,” he said on Wednesday. "We want our election certificate.”

Analysts have pointed to the importance of Turkey’s big cities as a source of wealth for Erdoğan’s network of family and friends, according to the Times.

“What makes the loss heavy is actually a secret known by everyone,” Çiğdem Toker, an investigative reporter with opposition newspaper Sözcü wrote on Wednesday.

She said Istanbul and Ankara are the centres of distributing financial resources.

“We are talking about tens of thousands of bids, public resources that can be identified with hundreds of billions, and the authority to spend them,” wrote Toker, who is facing several court cases brought by Erdoğan’s government.

She has published details of several multi-million-dollar payments made by municipalities to charities linked to Erdoğan and his family, and has said Turkey’s two largest cities are deep in debt.  

A new Istanbul administration could end the flow of major city contracts for construction projects and city services that have been granted to favoured businessmen, according to the New York Times.

“A new administration could also end payments worth millions of dollars to endowments of charities and foundations run by the Erdoğan family,” said the newspaper said.

“Mr. Erdoğan’s signature success has been construction projects, from public residential building to infrastructure projects and expensive megaprojects like bridges and mosques. Opponents say that government contracts go to favoured business partners, and that the AKP receives payments in a system of kickbacks from every deal,” the Times said.