Turkish Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu has said that a total of 804 Turkish nationals who went abroad supposedly for municipal events with special service passports never returned to Turkey.
Soylu was commenting on a human smuggling scandal that surfaced this month after it emerged that 43 out of 45 people who had traveled to Hannover, Germany, in September to attend an environmental workshop never returned home.
The workshop had been organized by the Yeşilyurt Municipality in the eastern province of Malatya, which is run by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), and reportedly arranged for the attendees to be issued special Service Passports - grey passports - that are reserved for public servants or for others traveling on official business.
The issue grew into a wider scandal after it was revealed that various other municipalities also smuggled people using the same method.
Soylu on April 28 said that the demands to obtain service passports of some 4,496 individuals were rejected in the past six months.
"Thirteen inspectors are carrying out investigations in 27 municipalities in 19 provinces. We'll see what the result will be," Soylu told broadcaster NTV, urging people to be "patient and wait for the outcome."
According to the minister, some 109,000 individuals went abroad with service passports since 2018, out of 8123 of whom traveled via municipalities to attend certain events.
"A total of 2,872 people went in groups through municipalities. The number of the people whose passport validities have expired is 804," he said.
Authorities are also checking whether any similar incidents took place between 2000 and 2018, during which 507,557 individuals were granted service passports, Soylu noted.