Turkish court releases contractor of collapsed building that killed 97 in Feb. 6 quakes

A Turkish court has released Mehmet Özkan, the contractor of the city blocks that collapsed and killed 97 people in the Hatay province during the Feb. 6 quakes. Families of the victims objected to the court decision, citing Özkan’s potential to interfere with the ongoing trial with his ties to the ruling AKP.

Özkan is known for his lavish lifestyle and close ties to the ruling AKP.

Duvar English

A Turkish court on July 8 ruled to release contractor Mehmet Özkan during the second hearing of the trial related to the collapse of Özkan City Blocks in Hatay, which killed 97 people during the Feb. 6 earthquakes that shook the country’s southeast.

The expert committee requested additional time, citing their inability to complete the expert report required for a final verdict. It was also learned during the hearing that the presiding judge of the court had changed, according to reporting by the ANKA News Agency.

At the hearing, the defendant contractor Mehmet Özkan stated that he had a family, and they had been in a very bad state for the last 16 months while he awaited trial under arrest.

The court panel decided to release contractor Özkan and his brother Yusuf Özkan, postponing the hearing to September. 

Families who lost their loved ones had emotional breakdowns upon hearing the release decision.

The families and their lawyers expressed their concerns about Özkan’s release, referring to the family’s strong ties with the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).

"These people are powerful and can influence the course of the expert report due in September. They can alter our witnesses' statements,” they stated.

According to the lawyers of the victims, this release decision could set a precedent for the many lawsuits against the contractors of collapsed buildings in the area. “We hope there won't be more release decisions in other cases. We do not accept this release decision," the lawyers said. 

Despite his release, Özkan remains in custody for other ongoing cases. 

Upon an initial expert report in the aftermath of February 6, 2023, it was found that substandard materials were used in the construction of Özkan City Blocks, which were marketed as “earthquake-resistant”.

The expert committee's examination revealed that columns were cut, thin iron bars were used, and the concrete quality was poor in the apartment complex.

Özkan, the owner and contractor of the Özkan City Blocks that caused many deaths, was nominated as a candidate for Hatay’s Antakya district from the AKP in the 2019 local elections. 

Many Turkish prosecutor's offices filed criminal complaints against the contractors of buildings that collapsed during the Feb. 6 quakes. 

Despite the great magnitude of the double earthquakes, many buildings collapsed due to irregularities in their construction, and shortcuts taken by contractors and zoning officials. 

In February 2024, the first verdict was handed to the contractor of a building in the southeastern Şanlıurfa province, the collapse of which killed 34 and injured 10 people.

Müslüm Demirer was sentenced to 18 years in prison for "causing death and injury to more than one person with conscious negligence."

Similar lawsuits are ongoing in an effort to punish those who added to the destruction of the earthquakes.