Three more individuals have been detained in relation to an accident that occurred in an industrial elevator on Saturday, killing 10 workers at the construction site for a luxury residential complex, bringing the total number of suspects in custody in the case to five.
The 10 workers were killed when an industrial elevator car carrying them fell from the 32nd floor of the building they were working on, crashing to the ground floor. The Torun Center is a high-rise residential complex being built where the Ali Sami Yen Stadium once stood in İstanbul’s Şişli district.
Two people were detained over the weekend. Three more were detained on Tuesday and taken to the Şişli Police Station Public Safety Department.
The reason for the accident is still being investigated. The Turkish partner of the elevator manufacturer, Geda-Major, said in a statement on Monday it was not in charge of operating the hoist. On Tuesday, the Germany-based GEDA-Dechentreiter GmbH & Co. KG told Today’s Zaman in a written message: “GEDA will do everything we can do to contribute to the clarification of the accident cause. As a first step we will send independent experts to İstanbul as soon as possible.”
There have been claims that the elevator was overloaded at the time, as the prosecutor has established that it was transporting more than 1000 kg of construction material, in addition to its human cargo.
Deaths on the job have increased significantly in the construction industry, Turkey’s economic locomotive sector under the Justice and Development Party (AK Party), which has changed job safety laws and regulations, making them increasingly lenient for business owners. About 14,000 workers — from all industrial sectors — have died as a result of job accidents during the past 12 years under the AK Party government. In another recent tragedy, 301 miners died at a coal mine in Manisa’s town of Soma in May this year, which experts have said could have been prevented if the safety standards set by the state had been stricter.
Alleged links between the owner of Torunlar Construction, the owner of the project as well as much of the previously Treasury-owned land located in İstanbul’s Mecidiyeköy neighborhood in Şişli, and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan have also surfaced. A similar affiliation between Erdoğan and the owner of Soma Holding, the operator of the mine in Soma, had been noted.
The Cumhuriyet daily noted that Aziz Torun, the owner of the company and its president and general manager, is a friend of Erdoğan from an imam-hatip high-school. Aziz Yeniay, a former AK Party mayor sits on the board of directors of Torunlar Construction. Former AK Party minister Ali Coşkun also previously held a seat on the company’s executive board.
The newspaper noted that Aziz Torun in an earlier interview described his relationship with Erdoğan, saying: “Tayyip Bey and I have a past friendship. We used to take the same boat to school.” Torun, Cumhuriyet claimed, found his financial fortune under the AK Party government. Mehmet Torun, one of the owners of the Torunlar Group of Companies, is ranked as the 78th richest person in Turkey according to a list compiled by Forbes in 2013.
The Torunlar Group was founded in 1977 and operated as a medium-scale business until 1996, when it founded its sub company, Toray Construction, which constructed the company’s first shopping mall project in 1997. The rise of the company has been unstoppable since that time.
In a related development, Republican People’s Party (CHP) İstanbul deputy Umut Oran submitted a proposal to Parliament on Tuesday, seeking to remove the building inspection exemption in place for projects approved by Turkey’s state-owned development and construction company TOKİ. Torun Center also made use of this exemption, as the project — being constructed in the place of the recently-demolished Ali Sami Yaen stadium — was approved by TOKİ.
Family of killed worker
Meanwhile, a university student, 21-year-old Hıdır Ali Genç, was one of the 10 workers killed in the elevator accident. His father Mustafa Genç, who spoke to journalists in the family’s hometown, Tunceli, where the young man was buried at a funeral on Monday said he had received a call from Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu. Mustafa Genç said Davutoğlu told him that what happened was an accident and there was nothing that can be done. In response, Mustafa Genç said the government has committed murder and that he will take legal action against “all of you.”
Nazif Karaman, a reporter from the government-controlled Sabah daily in a tweet said that Genç’s response was unacceptable and that Davutoğlu had “treated him like a man and called him.” He deleted the tweet in the face of reaction and also claimed that the story about the family and the phone call was untrue and that such a conversation never took place. However, there has been no evidence to suggest that the story was fabricated and many news reporters have quoted the grieving father.
This is not the first time a government-affiliated individual has been insensitive to mourners. Yusuf Yerkel, an adviser of Erdoğan, who was prime minister at the time, sparked massive outrage after being photographed while kicking a mourner in Soma, in the wake of the mining disaster that killed 301 people on May 13.