Shopping and eating out
By KEREM HASAN
The movements of a controversial VIP party allowed into North Cyprus without proper health or immigration checks could not be confirmed, because security cameras at the five-star hotel where they stayed were tampered with, it was revealed this week.
The group, led by one of the world’s richest tour operators, was supposedly in the country to inspect a proposed marina site in Lapta, but some members went shopping in Girne and had breakfast in Gazimağusa, MPs were told.
Last week tourism minister Ünal Üstel was forced to resign as the scandal rocked the coalition government. And as angry opposition MPs continued to harry ministers, Democrat Party MP, Serdar Denktaş, dropped a bombshell by reading parts of the police report into the affair to parliament.
He said there were “serious findings” concerning the group of nine people that arrived on a private jet, including Anex Tour owner Neşet Koçkak, three Russian women and five other people.
Mr Denktaş said the police report had found that the “passengers were put into a hotel which was not a quarantine hotel,” “some of the camera footage of the hotel was reformatted and some did not take any recordings” “some passengers went to Girne and did shopping as well as had something to eat.”
Mr Denktaş said that, according to the report, “The said passengers were given permission to enter the TRNC on the condition of quarantine by the health ministry. The passengers were going to be picked up by vehicles of the public works and transport ministry, but this was later changed to the tourism and environment ministry.”
He said the report had stated passengers’ temperatures were checked upon arrival.“The report found that, despite a customs official being verbally notified concerning the arrival of the aircraft[he/she] was not present.
“After the aircraft landed, the passengers were taken to a parking area opposite the VIP terminal, where the temperatures of the passengers were taken by health ministry officials.”
Mr Denktaş said, however, that the report had found that a medical inspector of the Girne District connected to the health ministry had “absolutely no knowledge concerning the arrival of the passengers.
“The passengers and aircrew were picked up outside by vehicles belonging to the Merit Hotel group. They were then taken and placed into the Merit Royal Hotel in Alsancak which is not a quarantine hotel,” he said.
“According to investigations with some personnel at the Merit Royal hotel, the said people did not come out of their rooms. But some camera [footage] of the hotel has been reformatted and some cameras were not recording.”
Mr Denktaş said that, according to staff questioned at the hotel, the people “did not gamble at the casinos of Merit Royal and Merit Crystal Cove hotels”.
He said “some members of the group went to Girne and did some shopping and had something to eat.”
“There was an attempt to carry out a PCR test on some of the passengers at the Gazimağusa State hospital, but when this was unsuccessful, they were placed into a lodgement of a hotel construction in İskele. They were later taken back to the hospital for PCR testing, and the results returned as negative.”
Mr Denktaş added that the group had breakfast in Gazimağusa – and joining them was Cyprus Turkish Contractors’ Union head Cafer Gürcafer. He said the “said persons then went back to the lodgement in İskele. . .and they left the island at 8pm.”
Mr Denktaş said: “The most important issue in the report is the hotel records being deleted, for the records to be withheld. Hotels are obliged to keep a record and to keep them safe. . Later investigations will be looking at this matter.”
Mr Denktaş said that “all departments, including customs, had been informed of the [arrival of the jet], but despite this, there was no one onside.”
He said “There was widespread gossip spread that the purpose of the visit was not in actual fact for investment, but for other purposes. Based on the findings of the report, if there is anything that needs to be changed, it is the whole of the government!”
Anex boss Neşet Koçkar said he was upset by the claims made against him and his firm, the second preferred bidder, would pull out of the Lapta project. The company which put forward the winning tender for the multi-million pound development at Sardunya Bay, Kibris Arenco Yatırım (Investors) Ltd. had been due to sign a protocol and place a £5 million deposit yesterday, but last night there was no confirmation of such a move.
Opposition MPs laid into the government. Rebirth Party leader Erhan Arıklı claimed: “Wrongs upon wrongs are being committed. There is an attempt to close the entire matter by placing the blame on the shoulders of one minister.
“Last week, when we asked the public works and transport minister from which door did the passengers leave, the response we got was from the ‘fire gate’. So they left from the gate right next to the VIP building. The only person to have left Ercan airport from this gate is Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. So who carried out the immigration controls which is connected to the Ministry of Interior?
“Who carried out the customs checks that is connected to the Finance Ministry?
And the Health Ministry should explain as to why these people did not adhere to quarantine.”
Social Democratic Party leader Cemal Özyiğit read out the “motion” that had been presented to the Council of Ministers concerning the “special permission” for the visit.
“The motion was read out at the Council of Ministers, but no official decision was taken. This shows that no such permission was granted. Why weren’t these people not informed that they did not have permission to visit the country?”
Republican Turkish Party leader Tufan Erhürman said that “everything that has happened from top to bottom is illegal.”
“Mr Tatar is under an obligation to answer how a group of people can enter the country without a decision of the Council of Ministers, and without any presence of customs and quarantine. This issue is not closed, it will not be allowed to be closed,” he added.
Prime Minister Tatar said that the matter had been handed to the Ombudsman. “This private jet issue has really upset us. I cannot digest that this issue will overshadow the success of our government against the Covid-19 pandemic. We worked our guts out until midnight and we came out of this process with success.
“The motion brought to the Council of Ministers was not fully understood. We have an initial report from the police as to what has happened, following the finds of the Ombudsman we will have a full understanding of the issue.“We are sharing everything in a transparent manner, we have nothing to hide,” he said.
“It was stated that these people had come for the Lapta marina project, but it was later understood that the visit had no connection to this,” Mr Tatar said. “I as the Prime Minister was not aware of this situation.”