By KEREM HASAN / Chief Reporter
Mr Üstel paid the price for a growing scandal which was threatening to bring down the National Unity Party-Peoples’ Party coalition government and plunge the country into an unwelcome post-lockdown election. His place was taken by Girne MP Kutlu Evren.
The storm erupted last weekend when it emerged that a private plane had been allowed to land at Ercan airport and its group of nine passengers were then whisked to stay in a five-star hotel, believed to be the Merit Royal in Alsancak, apparently without any health checks or quarantine restrictions.
The party was led by millionaire businessman Neşet Koçkar, the head of Anex Tour, a company selected as the second preferred bidder for a major marina project on the Lapta coastline.
Also on board the jet, registration number TC-ATG E35, were three women with Russian names and five other people: The visiting group was Neşet Koçkar, Serhat Koçkar, Neşe Koçkar, Viktoria Pugacheva, Elvina Ignatova, Viktoria Lukinykh, Bünyat Özpak, Ahmet Efe Ünal and Cihan Kamburoğlu.
The passengers were allowed to leave the airport via the fire gate, a sliding gate next to the VIP building, separate from the main terminal. It’s been claimed there were no customs, immigration or health checks.
Mr Üstel had said the visit was made regarding the 300 million euro Lapta marina and hotel project on Sardunya bay– and that the group consisted of “investors and technicians” who wanted to see technical features on site.
But Lapta mayor, Mustafa Aktuğ, told Cyprus Today he had “no idea or information about this visit. . .it is a shame that this crisis is now going to be spoken about in relation to the Lapta marina project, which has been worked on for many years, and which will be a serious asset to our tourism,” he said.
And following days of adverse publicity, Neşet Koçkar announced on Thursday he had “withdrawn” from the tender saying he and the company had been “upset” by the claims made against them during their visit.
“In order not to contribute to this issue becoming a political material . . we are withdrawing from the tender opened by the Lapta municipality Port and Tourism Facility Build-Operate and Transfer Project.”
Mr Koçkar said he “apologised to the people of the TRNC for the incidents that have taken place which happened out of our hands and without our will.”
“The issue has deeply upset our company and myself, which compelled us to share this with the public,” he said.
Mr Aktuğ, said he didnt want to make a statement on the withdrawal. “The tender process is still continuing and we do not want to jeopordise this process,” he said.
The first chosen firm, Kıbrıs Arenco Yatırım (Investors) Ltd, needs to sign the protocol and deposit £5 million by next Friday, June 26.
Confusion reigned over who authorised the visit and who had approved the exemption of the 14-day quarantine period imposed as part of Covid-19 measures.
Prime Minister Ersin Tatar ordered a police investigation to determine whether there had been an “exploitation” of the quarantine rules.
Mr Tatar said: “We took this decision based on good intention. It was concerning an investment. The situation has grown. There are suspicions. I have the right to know all the issues. I have spoken with the head of police. They will investigate if there has been exploitation,” he said
Mr Üstel, a minister from the majority UBP party of Prime Minister Tatar, was lashed throughout the week by opponents and some of his own MPs, who accused him of lying over the real purpose of the visit.
Also under fire was public works and transport minister, Tolga Atakan – whose ministry authorised Civil Aviation department a day before the arrival of the jet to land at Ercan. Mr Atakan said that on this matter, the “Council of Ministers was openly deceived, and the people who were stated to be arriving for a purpose, did not come for this [purpose],” he said.
Mr Atakan criticised “other departments” for giving authorisation for the entry of people, adding: “The respective department cannot give these permissions [off the top of its head] but can only issue the permit according to the restrictions implemented in the country, by sharing [information] with the respective authorities and Ministries. Under the conditions, such permits in granting entry to foreign nationals can only be done through the framework of decisions and authorisation of the Council of Ministers.”
Cyprus Today understands Peoples Party (HP) head, deputy prime minister and foreign minister, Kudret Özersay, had even started clearing out his office with a breakup of the fragile coalition imminent.
Speaking to Cyprus Today, Civil Aviation head Mustafa Sofu, said that an application for permission to use Ercan airport was received a day before the flight.
“We then communicated this to the transport ministry, which authorised us to give permission. We are only responsible for allowing the aircraft to land into Ercan airport and not what happens to the passengers thereafter,” he said.
“Such visits during the special measures relating to Covid-19 can be done as has been done for the underline water project,” he said.
A Transport Ministry source told this newspaper, that information about the visit had been given by Mr Üstel to the Council of Ministers, but that nothing had been agreed or written down to authorise such a visit that exempted a quarantine process. Mr Üstel had said the visit was done “on the request of Lapta municipality.”