Treasury and Finance Minister Berat Albayrak’s land ownership on the route of Kanal Istanbul, a controversial artificial canal project, has stirred debate, with the opposition claiming that their concerns on the project paving way for land rent proved true.
Albayrak, who is also President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s son-in-law, purchased 13 acres of land in 2012, a year after Erdoğan announced plans for the construction of the canal, daily Cumhuriyet reported on Jan. 20.
Kanal Istanbul, which is the “crazy project” of Erdoğan and the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) has been on the government’s agenda since 2011.
With the canal, the government aims to open an artificial seaway between the Black Sea and the Marmara Sea.
The project has been criticized for possibly paving the way for land rent at the expense of the environment – a criticism that intensified after reports of land purchase by the mother of Qatar Emir, Sheikha Moza bint Nasser, were confirmed by Erdoğan. Albayrak’s land ownership added to the criticisms.
A ministry official told Cumhuriyet that Albayrak purchased the land in Arnavutköy in order to have land neighboring another that belongs to his father Sadık Albayrak.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that Sadık Albayrak purchased land in 2003 and Berat Albayrak purchased the neighboring one “in order for it to not be sold to a stranger.”
“The land next to Sadık Albayrak’s was put up for sale in 2012. Berat Albayrak purchased it in order for it to not be sold to a stranger. It would be far-fetched to link it with Kanal Istanbul. They’re not related,” the official said.
With a recent change, both lands are now within the area designated as a housing zone, which previously had the status of agricultural land.
Albayrak’s lawyer Ahmet Özel released a statement shortly after Cumhuriyet’s report, saying that “it was an ordinary purchase.”
“When it was put up for sale by its owner in 2012, Berat Albayrak bought it in a way that every citizen with the financial capabilities could have. It was an ordinary purchase,” Özel said, while refuting claims that the ownership amounts to land rent.
Özel also slammed the daily over “slander.”
“We will never surrender to lies and use all legal ways against this unethical and immoral report rapidly and efficiently,” he added.
The land ownership was asked to Istanbul Mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu, who has been a vocal opponent of Kanal Istanbul.
“God willing, Kanal Istanbul won’t be built. Honestly, I don’t care about who owns land in the area, whether it be ministers, foreigners or companies. What I care about is protecting Istanbul’s environment,” İmamoğlu told reporters on Jan. 20, adding that the project turned into individual land rent even before the beginning of its construction.