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Erdoğan sues main opposition leader over ‘gang of five’ remarks

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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has sued main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) Chairman Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu for TL 1,000,000 ($68,000) in non-pecuniary damages over Kılıçdaroğlu’s reference to Erdoğan as the “collector” of five pro-government businessmen known as “gang of five,” the Kronos news website reported.

A speech delivered by Kılıçdaroğlu at a party meeting in parliament on March 22 as well as a tweet on March 31 were what prompted Erdoğan to file the lawsuit on accusations that his personal rights were violated.

At a news conference upon his return from a visit to Uzbekistan on March 31, Erdoğan was asked about the criticism raised by Kılıçdaroğlu regarding the conduct of giant construction projects such as a newly opened suspension bridge over the Dardanelles by pro-government companies through the built-operate-transfer method.

Opponents accuse Erdoğan of pursuing vanity projects that fill the coffers of pro-government companies while putting the government into deep and largely unnecessary debt, hence wasting taxpayers’ money.

In response, Erdoğan accused Kılıçdaroğlu of not understanding the logic behind the build-operate-transfer model and explained how the model helps the state to save money.

“He [Kılıçdaroğlu] is a taxman while I am an economist. This is the difference between us,” said Erdoğan, referring to the main opposition leader’s former job as general manager of the Social Security Institution (SGK) in the 1990s.

Erdoğan previously wrote in his CV that he graduated from the faculty of economics and commercial sciences of the İstanbul-based Marmara University; however, there has been an ongoing debate since his election as president in 2014 as to his completion or not of university courses since the Office of the President has provided no satisfactory documentation of his graduation. A four-year university degree is a prerequisite for holding the office of president in Turkey.

In response, Kılıçdaroğlu tweeted: “You are not an economist, you can only be the collector of the gang of five. A collector who has an eye on the money of the public.”

Cengiz Holding Chair Mehmet Cengiz, Limak Holding CEO Nihat Özdemir, MNG Holding Chairman Mehmet Nazif Günal, Kolin Construction CEO Naci Koloğlu and Kalyon Construction Chair Cemal Kalyoncu are referred to by the opposition parties as the “gang of five” for having won nearly all the large tenders during Erdoğan’s time in office.

The companies that comprise the gang of five are among the world’s top 10 private sponsors of public infrastructure projects by investment and region and by investment and primary sector for the years 1990 to 2020, according to World Bank data. The opposition parties accuse them of rigging tenders and claim they are Turkey’s biggest tax evaders.

Erdoğan often sues opposition politicians or critics due to their criticism of his policies or government.

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