Main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) on April 21 announced that lawmakers from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its junior coalition partner Nationalist Movement Party (AKP) have rejected a proposal for a parliamentary inquiry into claims that some municipalities helped hundreds of people to cross into Europe illegally.
“Thanks to the AKP, the world has become acquainted with a new human smuggling method! They have smuggled people to Germany through the hands of the municipalities, using the state's official gray passport, without any travel expenses of visa fees,” CHP MP Veli Ağbagba wrote on Twitter.
CHP MP Utku Çakırözer also commented on the issue, writing on his Twitter account: “We have asked for a parliamentary inquiry into the municipalities' human smuggling abroad using gray passports. The AKP and MHP have rejected it.”
The scandal first surfaced last week 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 AKP and reportedly arranged for the attendees to be issued special Service Passports - gray passports - that are reserved for public servants or for others traveling on official business.
Malatya Governor's Office subsequently announced that an investigation was launched into the incident and four people were removed from office.
On April 19, an Interior Ministry statement said it had widened its investigation into the scandal to include six more municipalities which may have similarly helped smuggle people to Europe by arranging special passports under the pretext they would be used for city-arranged official travel, including to participate in folk dancing shows or other cultural programs.
The ministry also said it was suspending issuing the special state passports to those who are not public servants.
The municipalities currently probed by the ministry are Gömeç in northwest Balıkesir province, Gölbaşı in southeastern Adıyaman province, Yeşilova in Mediterranean Burdur province, Yerköy in Central Anatolian Yozgat province, Suruç in southeastern Şanlıurfa province and Korgan in northern Ordu province.
One of the municipalities being investigated is run by the AKP, one is run by the Good (İYİ) Party, one is run by a state-appointed trustee and the remaining three are by the CHP.
The mayors of the opposition-run municipalities in question later issued a statement, denying all the accusations.