Turkey steps up investigation into collapsed buildings, orders 113 arrest

By Daren Butler

ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkey promised on Sunday to thoroughly investigate anyone suspected of being responsible for the collapse of buildings during the devastating earthquakes that hit the country nearly a week ago and has already ordered the arrests of 113 suspects.

Vice President Fuat Oktay said overnight that 131 suspects had so far been identified as responsible for the collapse of some of the thousands of buildings leveled in the 10 provinces affected by last Monday’s aftershocks.

“Detention orders have been issued for 113 of them,” Oktay told reporters at a briefing at the disaster management coordination center in Ankara.

“We will follow up meticulously until the necessary judicial process is concluded, especially for buildings that have suffered serious damage and buildings that have caused deaths and injuries.”

He said the justice ministry has set up earthquake crime investigation offices in provinces in the quake zone to investigate the deaths and injuries.

Environment Minister Murat Kurum said 24,921 buildings across the region collapsed or were severely damaged in the quake, based on assessments of more than 170,000 buildings.

Rescuers were still looking for survivors in the earthquake rubble six days after the disaster, which struck parts of Syria and Turkey. The death toll has passed 28,000 and is expected to rise further.

Opposition parties have accused President Tayyip Erdogan’s government of failing to enforce building codes and misspending the special taxes levied after the last major earthquake in 1999 to make buildings more earthquake resistant.

Erdogan said the opposition only tells lies and spreads slander to smear the government, hindering investment instead of addressing corruption in opposition-run municipalities.

In the 10 years to 2022, Turkey slipped 47 places in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index to 101, after being 54 out of 174 countries in 2012.

Prosecutors in Adana ordered the detention of 62 people in an investigation into the collapsed buildings, while prosecutors requested the arrest of 33 people in Diyarbakir for the same reason, state-run Anadolu News Agency reported.

He said eight people were arrested in Sanliurfa and four in Osmaniye in connection with destroyed buildings believed to have flaws, such as the removal of columns.

Police arrested the developer of a collapsed residential complex in Antakya at Istanbul Airport as he prepared to board a plane to Montenegro on Friday evening and was formally arrested on Saturday, according to Anadolu.

The exclusive 12-storey residential complex was completed ten years ago and contained 249 apartments. There was no casualty information in that building.

The arrested man told prosecutors he did not know why the complex collapsed and that his desire to go to Montenegro was unrelated, Anadolu said.

“We have fulfilled all the procedures required by the legislation,” he said in his statement, quoted by Anadolu. “All licenses have been obtained.”

(Additional reporting by Dominic Evans; Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by Ece Toksabay and Raissa Kasolowsky)

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