Turkey's main opposition Republican Peoples' Party (CHP) has raised a parliamentary question on claims that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan accepted two villas from a businessman in return for easing zoning restrictions in İzmir's Urla district.
According to phone conversations surfaced in the media, a businessman wanted to build eight villas near the village of Zeytineli in Urla, but was denied the permit as the area was a first-degree environmentally protected zone. The businessman asked the prime minister to change the zone to a third-degree protected zone so that he could get the permits he needed. The prime minister helped the businessman, and reportedly received two villas from him in return.
General Director of the Protection of Natural Heritage Agency Osman İyimaya suggests, in a wiretapped conversation, appealing to an administrative court to reduce the degree of the protected zone. He advises asking university professors to prepare a report on the protected area. Reports say İyimaya and five university professors were paid TL 130,000 to prepare a misleading report about the area, where the villas were erected on protected land.
Two CHP deputy chairmen, Sezgin Tanrıkulu and Umut Oran, asked in their question if there was any truth to the claims. “Did you [prime minister] receive bribes to change the said area to a third-degree protected zone, and did you do the same thing for other areas, too?” they asked.
In related news, details of phone conversations between the prime minister and businessman Mustafa Latif Topbaş, and between the prime minister's daughter and Topbaş, made their way to the media. However, access to the website that first published the tapes of the conversations was immediately blocked.
The conversations revealed that Erdoğan was talking with Topbaş and asks the businessman about the construction of the villas. In the conversation, which took place on Aug. 15, 2013, according to the report, the prime minister asked the businessman to finish the villas soon. In the conversation between Erdoğan's daughter Sümeyye and Topbaş, the former tells the businessman that she and her mother had taken a look at the construction plans of the villas and liked two of them, but wanted to make some changes to the plans. Topbaş, then told Sümeyye that he might visit the Erdoğan family at their residence later in the day to discuss their suggested changes, the reports said.
The Erdoğan family's phones had been wiretapped on a court order in a corruption investigation, the report said.
Topbaş was one of the suspects in the second phase of a massive corruption investigation that has rocked the ruling party. The second phase was not carried out by police officers and was later dropped.
The corruption scandal, which has led three Cabinet ministers to resign and seen businessmen close to Erdoğan detained, has become one of the biggest threats to the prime minister's 11-year rule.
Erdoğan has portrayed the corruption inquiry as an attempted judicial coup by a "parallel state," a veiled reference to the Hizmet movement.
The report claims that the suspect took advantage of almost every bureaucrat who could help him bypass legal hurdles to build the villas. In one of the conversations, Topbaş complains about then-İzmir Governor Mustafa Cahit Kıraç, who he said wanted to destroy the villas because they were being built on a high-priority protected zone. When Topbaş asks Erdoğan to call the İzmir governor to stop him from trying to block the construction of villas, Erdoğan grunted.
Four months after the conversation, Kıraç was appointed governor of Diyarbakır.
Before reports of the wiretaps surfaced, the Yurt daily claimed that Topbaş was building a villa in the Urla district. Yurt also covered the corruption allegations related to the construction of villas and the saga of the re-appointment of the İzmir governor.