New poisoning evidence spurs call for expanded probe into Özal’s death

Calls have been raised by various circles that the scope of an ongoing investigation »»

Calls have been raised by various circles that the scope of an ongoing investigation should be expanded into the 1993 death of former President Turgut Özal in light of evidence that four different poisonous substances were detected in the former president's remains.

According to sources from the Council of Forensic Medicine (ATK), who spoke to Today's Zaman over the weekend on the condition of anonymity, Özal was mostly likely poisoned with four separate substances.

An investigation into the former president's suspicious death began earlier this year after a number of witnesses spoke of unusual circumstances on the day of Özal's death, who was reported to have suffered a heart attack. His remains were exhumed in October for toxicological testing.

Political figures who served during Özal's terms as either prime minister or president told Today's Zaman that the investigation into his suspicious death should continue in a more detailed manner. Former Education Minister Vehbi Dinçerler said all staff at Özal's residence, including guards and servants, and his family members should be questioned in connection to the former president's death. “In addition, a failed assassination attempt against Özal [in 1988] should also be probed, and the reality behind the attempt should be exposed. The State Audit Institution [DDK] should spur action to investigate the assassination attempt,” Dinçerler stated.

ATK sources said that among poisonous substances found in Özal's remains were DDT (dikloro difenol trikloroethan), which is used in killing insects and was forbidden in Turkey in 1980, and DDE, which causes heavy damage to the liver after being absorbed by the body.

Experts noted that the poison, which is found in nature and the human body naturally, was present in Özal's body at 10 times the normal level. Experts also detected the presence of cadmium, a chemical element, in his body. Additionally, experts also found radioactive elements in the remains of the former president. Americium, a transuranic radioactive chemical element, and polonium were detected in Özal's remains.

According to the experts, the former president's body was weakened with americium and polonium in the long run, and with the use of DDT his death was accelerated. The DDT might have entered Özal's body through food or drink, experts suggested. They are now investigating what kind of food the former president consumed in the meals he ate during his last days.

The ATK has yet to finalize the report about its findings on Özal's remains by December and hand it over to the Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor's Office, which is investigating the former president's death.

Former Minister Hasan Celal Güzel said there is much to suspect about Özal's death. “The [ATK] findings are so saddening. They show that the former president was martyred. He was one of the leading politicians of his time, and he was killed treacherously. The people who were behind the murder should immediately be exposed. Had an investigation been launched then, Özal's killers would have been found,” he noted.

The Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor's office is also investigating a number of unusual circumstances that came to light following Özal's alleged heart attack. Certain facts -- including that on the day of his death his in-house doctor and nurse were both out, the staff were not able to start the ambulance due to a mechanical problem, there was a lack of first aid equipment at the presidential residence and other similarly unusual issues -- have led to suspicions surrounding the death of the former president.

Additionally, the office has focused on inconsistencies between the statements made by Özal's doctor and his family members regarding the initial failure to perform an autopsy. Özal's doctor, Cengiz Aslan, claimed that the family of the former president did not request an autopsy, but the Özal family denies this claim.

In early November, a Turkish daily cited an unpublished autopsy report by the ATK and claimed that Özal was poisoned by “strychnine creatine,” a powerful poison that leads to respiratory arrest in 15-20 minutes and could also cause a heart attack.

‘I cannot understand how a president could be poisoned'

It is hard to understand how a president, with the protection of many guards, could have been poisoned, according to Özal's close circle. Sait Yazıcıoğlu, a former minister, said presidents are offered special food and the meals specially prepared for him are closely monitored by his guards. “It is really hard to figure out how the poisonous substances were added gradually to his meals,” he said, and added that Özal was killed at very critical times for Turkey.

Özal, known for his reformist policies that paved the way for a more democratic and liberal Turkey, was working to solve the long-standing Kurdish and Armenian questions at the time he was pronounced dead. There have been rumors for long that he was killed for his efforts to solve the two questions.

Ekrem Pakdemirli, a former deputy prime minister who is known to be a close friend of Özal, stated that Özal's cook and housekeeper left work and settled in Canada and Sweden, respectively, around only one week to 10 days after Özal's death, raising suspicion that they may have had a hand in the poisoning incident. “It is not hard to bring the cook and housekeeper back to Turkey [for interrogation]. I think the prosecutors [involved in Özal's death investigation] will think to interrogate them,” Pakdemirli stated.

According to former Health Minister Halil Şıvgın, it is clear to all observers that Özal's death was not a natural one, and a parliamentary commission should be set up to investigate the incident.

Retired military judge Faik Tarımcıoğlu stated that the circumstances that came to light following Özal's alleged heart attack, such as that there was no ambulance around the presidential palace and the bottle of blood taken as a sample from the former president shortly before he was pronounced dead was later broken, are ridiculous. Tarımcıoğlu extended his thanks to President Abdullah Gül for giving an order to the DDK to investigate the death of Özal, which eventually led to the discovery that Özal may have been poisoned, but expressed his concerns that the findings may be covered up. “Prosecutors should be extremely careful,” he added.

‘Özal was killed slowly over a month'

Retired military judge Arif Yüksel, who served as Özal's chief advisor, stated that Özal was not killed suddenly, but over the period of a month.

Yüksel said Özal became ill around two weeks before his scheduled visit to Azerbaijan, and that he begged the former president to cancel his visit. "He was frequently perspiring and looked very tired at the time, not like he had looked before. I talked to Özal to convince him to cancel his visit to Azerbaijan, and he agreed. But then Semra Özal [Özal's wife] said he would not cancel the visit by any means. After that Özal decided not to cancel the visit and went to Azerbaijan,” the retired judge noted, calling on prosecutors to investigate what went on during the Azerbaijan visit.

Yüksel also claimed that Özal was killed by the same shadowy circles, hinting at the Ergenekon terrorist organization, that killed Gen. Eşref Bitlis, who died in a place crash in 1993, while he was investigating questionable links between the military, the terrorist Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) and other groups. “When Özal learned about the death of Bitlis, he said that another son of the country had been killed. He never believed that the crash was an accident. Özal was killed by the same group that killed Bitlis,” Yüksel said.