Turkey earthquake: 130 contractors face arrest over building code breaches

Ankara has had safety guidelines for new buildings in place for about two decades

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Follow the latest news on the earthquake in Turkey and Syria

Turkey has issued warrants for the arrest of 130 people over breaches of safety codes they say caused unnecessary deaths, six days after a 7.8-magnitude earthquake shook the southern part of the country.

The quake levelled at thousands of buildings in Turkey and Syria, with the death toll exceeding 35,000 on Monday.

Turkish Vice President Fuat Oktay confirmed the arrest warrants on Sunday, and police said at least 12 people had been arrested.

Last week, Turkey’s Minister of Justice Bekir Bozdag said “those who have been negligent, at fault and [are] responsible for the destruction following the earthquake will answer to justice”.

Safety guidelines for projects in earthquake-prone areas have been in place in Turkey for about two decades but experts say they have rarely been enforced.

Among those facing scrutiny were two people arrested in Gaziantep province on suspicion of cutting down columns to make extra room in a building that collapsed, the state-run Anadolu Agency said.

Three people were arrested, seven others were detained and another seven were barred from leaving Turkey, the Justice Ministry said.

Two contractors suspected of ignoring building standards in Adiyaman were arrested on Sunday at Istanbul Airport while trying to leave the country, the private DHA news agency and other media reported.

One detained contractor, Yavuz Karakus, told DHA: “My conscience is clear. I built 44 buildings. Four of them were demolished. I did everything according to the rules.”

Eyup Muhcu, the president of the Chamber of Architects of Turkey, told AFP last week that many buildings near the epicentre of the disaster had been hastily erected with “weak and not sturdy” construction.

The Turkish government is now racing to evaluate which buildings collapsed as a result of negligence by contractors.

Authorities at Istanbul Airport on Sunday detained two contractors held responsible for the collapse of several buildings in Adiyaman, the private DHA news agency and other media reported. The pair were reportedly on their way to Georgia.

Two more people were arrested in Gaziantep, accused of removing columns to make extra room in a building that collapsed, the state-run Anadolu Agency said.

Turkey’s Justice Ministry has announced the planned establishment of Earthquake Crimes Investigation bureaus, which will seek to identify contractors and others behind substandard constructions.

The bureaus will gather evidence, instruct experts including architects, geologists and engineers, and check building permits and occupation permits.

A building contractor was detained by authorities on Friday at Istanbul airport before he could board a flight out of the country.

He was the contractor behind a luxury 12-storey building in the historic city of Antakya, in Hatay province, which collapsed, causing many deaths.

Meanwhile, Hatay’s airport reopened early on Monday after its runway was repaired, allowing military and commercial planes to ferry in supplies and fly out evacuees.

The arrest warrants could help to direct public anger towards builders and contractors, deflecting attention away from local and state officials who allowed the apparently substandard constructions to go ahead.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's government, already burdened by an economic downturn and high inflation, faces parliamentary and presidential elections in May.

Survivors, many of whom have lost loved ones, have directed their frustration and anger at authorities.

Rescue crews have been overwhelmed by the widespread damage which has affected roads and airports, making it even more difficult in the race against the clock to rescue people.

Mr Erdogan acknowledged earlier in the week that the initial response has been hampered by the extensive damage.

He said the worst-affected area was 500km in diameter and home to 13.5 million people in Turkey.

During a tour of quake-damaged cities Saturday, Mr Erdogan said a disaster of this scope was rare, and again referred to it as the “disaster of the century”.

Updated: February 13, 2023, 11:11 AM