Turkey’s forestry minister faces criminal complaint for handling of wildfires

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A prominent lawyer has filed criminal complaints against Turkish Agriculture and Forestry Minister Bekir Pakdemirli and several ministry bureaucrats due to their poor handling of ongoing wildfires in the country, the T24 news website reported.

The criminal complaints were filed by lawyer Figen Albuga Çalıkuşu against Pakdemirli, deputy ministers Fatih Metin, Mehmet Hadi Tunç, Akif Özkaldı and Ayşe Ayşin Işıkgece, head of the General Directorate of Forestry Bekir Karacabey and his deputy general directors on allegations of misconduct in office and negligence that resulted in loss of life and property damage in forest fires currently ravaging the country.

At least eight people have died in more than 120 blazes that broke out on Turkey’s southern and western coasts last week. The flames have been fueled by scorching summer temperatures and conditions that experts say have been worsened by climate change.

In a petition submitted to the Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office, the lawyer said the ministry has blocked the Turkish Aeronautical Association (THK), a non-profit organization whose planes had been used in firefighting for decades, from taking part in tenders to lease firefighting aircraft to the government since 2019, causing the ministry to spend four times more money on the maintenance of leased aircraft than would have been spent on THK aircraft.

In the petition Çalıkuşu referred to a presidential decree issued on June 10 that made the Agriculture and Forestry Ministry responsible for the protection of forests.

Pakdemirli, the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan have come under fire due to the poor response to the wildfires, allowing them to spread and taking a toll on wildlife and farm animals.

The harsh criticism targeting Turkish authorities centered around Erdoğan’s inaction and the small number of firefighting planes actively used to respond to fires. According to local media reports, Turkey had only one plane available to respond to the fires so leased two more from Russia for TL 1.3 million ($154,563) per day.

 

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