Investigation into İstanbul mayor over Kanal İstanbul launched with minister’s approval

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İstanbul mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu

Turkish Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu has said he approved the launch of an investigation into İstanbul Mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu over his objections to Kanal İstanbul, an artificial waterway the Justice and Development Party (AKP) plans to construct in İstanbul.

Soylu’s remarks were made during a Monday evening program on Habertürk TV.

On Monday morning Meral Akşener, leader of the İYİ Party, revealed the launch of an investigation into İmamoğlu during a program on FOX TV, saying that İmamoğlu had sent her the investigation file. She said the İstanbul mayor is accused of opposing a state project and engaging in separatism.

Later in the day, the municipality confirmed Akşener’s claim and the Interior Ministry released a statement, saying that the launch of the investigation into the İstanbul mayor was not based on accusations of separatism but for opposing a state project and using state funds to promote this opposition.

İmamoğlu was being investigated for erecting billboards across İstanbul that said, “Either Kanal or İstanbul? Who needs Kanal İstanbul?” according to the ministry statement.

Soylu said it was unacceptable for İmamoğlu to use state funds for the billboards to oppose a state project.

“We are governing a state. We govern it with rules. We don’t have the right to ignore or turn a blind eye to certain things. There are laws and rules. The integrity of the administration lies in our laws. There is a state project in question here,” Soylu said.

Kanal İstanbul, which Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan dubbed his “crazy project,” will bisect the European side of İstanbul to connect the Black Sea to the Marmara and Mediterranean seas. It is scheduled to be completed by 2023; however, there is widespread public opposition to its construction due to environmental and financial concerns.

When the program’s host, journalist Fatih Altaylı, asked the minister whether a similar investigation would have been launched into İmamoğlu if he had supported the Kanal İstanbul project and promoted it through messages on billboards, Soylu said, “it would be exactly be the same.”

İmamoğlu, who defeated Erdoğan’s nominee as the opposition candidate in the mayoral race in İstanbul last year, has on many occasions expressed opposition to the project, describing it as “treason against the city.” 

In brief remarks on Monday about the launch of the investigation into him due to his opposition to the Kanal İstanbul project, İmamoğlu said he does not see Kanal İstanbul as “a state project.”

In the meantime, main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu criticized the launch of the investigation into İmamoğlu during his party’s parliamentary group meeting on Tuesday.
“They say it [construction of the channel] is a state policy. Has it been discussed at the National Security Council (MGK)? Has a special law been enacted for it? Why is it a state policy? Because the decision of a single person is considered state policy,” said Kılıçdaroğlu, implying that the decisions of President Erdoğan are enacted as state policy.

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