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Party leader ordered to pay damages to pro-gov’t businessman for criticizing him

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A local court has ordered Erkan Baş, chairman of the Workers Party of Turkey (TİP), to pay damages to pro-government businessman Mehmet Cengiz, chair of Cengiz Holding, for “violating his personal rights” by criticizing him during a press conference in late 2020, the ilerihaber news website reported on Friday.

Cengiz is among five businessmen who are referred to by Turkey’s opposition parties as the “gang of five” for having won nearly all the large tenders during the time in office of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

During a press briefing in parliament on Dec. 22, 2020, Baş had criticized Cengiz due to an advertisement run by his holding that said, “We have made [protecting] a tree our philosophy of life for 40 years,” claiming that the holding aimed to “serve the country” by protecting nature, while it sparked outrage for destroying the environment with its projects in many locations in Turkey.

“[Cengiz] broadcast an advertisement on many TV channels at the same time yesterday. They obviously think their image has been shaken. They are trying to fix the issue. … [But] you will not be able to, Mr. Mehmet Cengiz, you will not be able to. Your massacre of trees, destruction, plundering of nature [and] especially the curses you have uttered against the nation will never be forgotten. When the workers’ [political] power is established, when these [presidential] palaces are destroyed, we will take everything you have,” Baş said during the press conference.

According to ilerihaber, after Cengiz’s lawyers filed a TL 250,000 ($14,805) lawsuit against the TİP leader for “violation of personal rights,” the court ordered Baş to pay TL 20,000 ($1,184) in damages in a ruling open to appeal.

After the ruling, Baş said in a video released on Twitter that he wouldn’t pay the damages to the businessman, adding that the court’s decision showed how “devoted” the courts are to the palace, a reference to Erdoğan, and the bosses that it feeds.

“They want to impose a fine on a political assessment made by the head of a political party. We have only one thing to say: Not on your life. I am not paying this money to Mehmet Cengiz,” Baş added.

Cengiz, one of the world’s top 10 private sponsors of public infrastructure projects for the years 1990 to 2020, according to World Bank data, won tenders worth $42.1 billion between 2002 and 2020.

The holding first came to public attention in Turkey in late 2013, when Turkey was shaken by the news of two corruption investigations in which senior ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) politicians were involved.

Mehmet Cengiz, who has been awarded numerous public contracts — including the construction of İstanbul’s third airport — during the 18 years of AKP rule, was heard in wiretapped phone conversations cursing the Turkish people.

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