Istanbul mayor probed for spending cash to oppose Erdoğan canal project

(Updates with reaction from İmamoğlu)

Istanbul Mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu is facing possible prosecution for spending local government resources on opposing plans to build a canal through the city, according to his spokesman.

İmamoğlu must respond in writing within seven days to accusations that he has broken the Constitution by hanging posters saying “It’s the canal or Istanbul” and “Who needs Kanal Istanbul?”, spokesman Murat Ongun said on Twitter on Monday.

The mayor is accused of illegally spending public money to oppose state policy and of threatening the unity of public administration, Ongun said.    

İmamoğlu, a member of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) is a vocal opponent of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who he accuses of planning to waste billions of dollars of public resources on a waterway that threatens to destroy Istanbul’s heritage and environmental disaster.

Later on Monday, İmamoğlu said he did not want to comment on the investigation, T24 news site reported.

İmamoğlu responded to allegations by the ministry that he had used public resources to prepare posters in opposition to the Kanal Istanbul project.

"We are using a public resource to engage in urban transformation,’’ İmamoğlu said. "We applaud good initiatives.’’

İmamoğlu became mayor in March last year after defeating Erdoğan’s preferred candidate, former Prime Minister Binali Yildirim in a bitterly fought local election. Voting was held twice after the election board responded to a legal appeal by Erdogan’s governing Justice and Development Party (AKP). İmamoğlu is being widely tipped to run against Erdoğan in presidential elections in 2023.

The 45-kilometre long Kanal Istanbul, announced by Erdoğan in April 2011, has been beset by delays. It is designed to divert shipping from the busy Bosporus waterway, which dissects the city and marks a boundary between Europe and Asia.

The canal, due to be built through Istanbul’s European side, would create an island in the middle of the city also flanked by the Bosporus, the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmara.