Istanbul Mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu has claimed that a minister currently in the cabinet suggested accusing him of having links to the U.S.-based Islamic preacher Fethullah Gülen, as the debate over Gülenists' political leg continues to top Turkey's agenda.
A video shown by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan that accused Istanbul Mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu of having an advisor with links to Gülen has stirred debate, with the mayor refuting the claims.
During his address to the members of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) on Feb. 12, Erdoğan showed a video, claiming that main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu has relations with the Gülenists - an ally-turned-foe of the government.
The video had a part that claimed İmamoğlu, who is also from the CHP, employed an advisor linked to the Gülenists - officially called the Fethullahist Terrorist Organization (FETÖ).
When asked about Erdoğan's claims, İmamoğlu said that the man in question, Erhan Karaaslan, is not his advisor, adding that he was saddened by the president's accusations.
"How can they use such false statements? We are talking about a person who has been serving [Istanbul's] Beylikdüzü Municipality since 2012. He was already employed under AKP municipality when I became Beylikdüzü Mayor," İmamoğlu told reporters, referring to his term as the Beylikdüzü Mayor before he became Istanbul's mayor.
İmamoğlu also said that Karaaslan's lawyer was invited to the western province of İzmir a day before the March 31, 2019 local elections by a minister.
"I will share something for the first time that I haven't done until today that I refrained from doing so to not start an argument," İmamoğlu said, adding that the minister, who is still in the cabinet, suggested accusing the mayor of having ties to the Gülenists.
"Did this minister say, 'Accuse İmamoğlu of having ties to FETÖ or corruption. Our aim is to end them'? Does Erdoğan know about this plot? Was it done with his approval or does he not know about it?" he said.
İmamoğlu noted that Karaaslan was tried and found not guilty, adding that he withdrew his request to meet Erdoğan following the accusations.
"Of course I withdrew it. It has no meaning," he said.
İmamoğlu was elected Istanbul mayor on June 23, 2019 local elections, ending years-long AKP rule of the city.
The recent debate over Gülenists' political leg started on Feb. 11 when Kılıçdaroğlu pointed to Erdoğan as the politician who allowed the illegal organization to infiltrate into state institutions.
The relations between Gülenists and the AKP were soured in 2013 when prosecutors close to the former launched corruption probes targeting figures close to the latter.