Burhan Kuzu, a professor of constitutional law who served in the Turkish Parliament for three terms from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), died of the novel coronavirus on Sunday, according to a statement from a private hospital in İstanbul.
Kuzu, 65, had spent the last two weeks undergoing treatment for COVID-19 at the Medipol Mega University Hospital in İstanbul.
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and leading figures of the AKP issued messages of condolence following Kuzu’s death.
On social media a number of people shared previous messages of Kuzu, an active Twitter user who had questioned the seriousness of the coronavirus pandemic.
In a tweet on March 23 he wrote: “Ebola [virus] claimed 13,000 lives in 1976, Sars claimed 8,000 lives in 2002, Mers claimed 858 lives in 2012, swine flu claimed 8,238 lives in 2009. In fact the number of people who were infected with these viruses and died of them are more than those who have been infected and died of COVID-19. It spreads more quickly but it is less lethal. Then why is the world on tenterhooks? Is this anything other than the exaggeration of social media?”
Kuzu, who was also an advisor to President Erdoğan, was among the leading architects of Turkey’s transition from a parliamentary system to a presidential system of governance, which granted Erdoğan vast powers.
Turkey switched to the presidential system after a constitutional reform package was approved by the public in a referendum in April 2017. Erdoğan was elected for a second term as president and for the first time under the new system in an election in June 2018.
The late politician recently came to public attention in Turkey when the chief public prosecutor’s office in İstanbul launched an investigation into him in February due to his alleged role in the release of an Iranian drug lord from pre-trial detention in Turkey in 2018.
Kuzu, who allegedly pressured a judge to have drug lord Naci Sherifi Zindashti released from jail pending trial, was accused of using his political power to influence the course of a judicial proceeding.
At the time Kuzu claimed he did not know Zindashti, but a photo later emerged showing Kuzu and Zindashti at a table having dinner.
He was laid to rest following funeral prayers at İstanbul’s Fatih Mosque on Monday.