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US investigating New York mayor’s role in opening of Turkish gov’t high-rise in Manhattan

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US federal authorities are investigating whether New York Mayor Eric Adams pressured New York Fire Department officials weeks before his election in 2021 to sign off on a new high-rise built by the Turkish government in Manhattan despite safety concerns with the building, The New York Times reported, citing three people with knowledge of the matter.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan inaugurated the 35-story “Türkevi” (Turkish House), which cost Turkey nearly $300 million, during a visit to New York City for the UN General Assembly in September 2021 amid criticism that the money could have been put to better use, especially when university students were protesting the high cost of housing at the time.

The building, which houses Turkey’s Permanent Mission to the UN as well as the Turkish Consulate General, at 821 First Avenue in Manhattan, just across from United Nations headquarters, uses traditional Turkish architectural motifs, rises to the sky in the shape of a tulip and can be seen from downtown Manhattan, the East River and Long Island.

According to the NYT, after winning the Democratic mayoral primary in July, Adams contacted then-Fire Commissioner Daniel A. Nigro in late summer 2021 and urged him to allow the Turkish government to occupy the building at least on a temporary basis. Although an inauguration ceremony took place in September 2021, the Times said the building had yet to open because fire officials had cited safety issues and declined to sign off on its occupancy.

The unusual intervention by Adams is being examined as part of a broader public corruption investigation by the FBI and federal prosecutors in Manhattan that led to the seizure of the mayor’s electronic devices by federal agents earlier this month, the people said. The FBI has been asking top fire department officials about Adams’s role in the matter since spring, the people said.

Adams’ intervention paved the way for Erdoğan, whose fondness for massive building projects was well known in Turkey, to preside over the grand opening of the tower despite numerous flaws in its fire safety system, according to the people familiar with the matter and city records. The skyscraper in the center of New York City reflected Turkey’s “increased power,” Erdoğan said at its ribbon-cutting.

New York City records revealed problems for months before Erdoğan’s visit in 2021 as Turkish government contractors sought to gain city approval to complete and occupy the building. On July 26, 2021, the Fire Department rejected the fire protection plan submitted by a consultant for the Turkish government, asking for changes. Around the same time, the Buildings Department issued a violation after a glass panel on the 17th floor fell off and plummeted 10 stories.

Only 10 days before Erdoğan was to preside over the opening of the new building, a senior Fire Department official informed Sparc Fire Protection Engineering, a consultant on the building project, that the department would not object to a temporary certificate of occupancy that would allow the building to be used if the consultant affirmed that the alarm system complied with the city building code, the records show.

But a week later, on Sept. 17, the consultant reported numerous “deficiencies” involving smoke detectors, elevators, fans, doors and other issues. Sparc’s president told the city that the building would be staffed with guards on “fire watch” until the problems were resolved. The building is still operating under a temporary certificate of occupancy, records show.

In May of this year, after a man used a metal bar to shatter several of the consulate’s windows and threaten its security guards — an act the Turkish president called terrorism — Adams showed up in person to inspect the damage.

Emine Erdogan Eric Adams
New York City Mayor Eric Adams shakes hands with First Lady Emine Erdoğan during an event at the Turkish House in New York in September 2023. (Photo: Turkish Presidency)

Most recently, Adams attended an event hosted by first lady Emine Erdoğan at Turkish House on Sept. 19. The ‘Path to the Global Zero Waste Movement’ event was also attended by spouses of heads of state and government participating in the 78th session of the United Nations General Assembly.

Adams’s ties to the Turkish government and community stretch back years. As Brooklyn borough president, he actively wooed wealthy members of the Turkish community in south Brooklyn.

In August 2015, the Turkish consulate in New York paid for Mr. Adams’s airfare, hotel and ground transportation for a trip to Turkey, according to financial disclosure records. There, Adams signed a sister-city agreement with İstanbul’s Üsküdar Municipality, one of several he executed with foreign cities he traveled to as borough president. He also visited Bahçeşehir University, founded by the same Turkish philanthropist who founded Bay Atlantic University in Washington, D.C.

Üsküdar Mayor Hilmi Türkmen was received by New York Mayor Eric Adams at City Hall on May 13, 2022. (Photo: Üsküdar Municipality)

Meanwhile, the federal criminal inquiry, which came to public attention on Nov. 2, focused at least in part on whether Adams’s 2021 campaign conspired with the Turkish government, including its consulate general in New York, to illegally funnel foreign money into its coffers, according to a search warrant obtained by The New York Times for an FBI search this month of the home of the mayor’s chief fund-raiser.

Law enforcement officials who are familiar with the search warrants told CNN the investigators are seeking evidence that foreign nationals –- who are barred from making contributions –- may have “bundled” donations by going into New York’s Turkish-American communities and getting US citizens of Turkish origin to act as “straw contributors.”

The warrant to search the home of Adams’s 25-year-old fund-raiser, Brianna Suggs, indicated that the investigation was examining the role of KSK Construction, a Brooklyn building company owned by Turkish immigrants that organized a fund-raising event for Adams on May 7, 2021.

Neither Adams nor his campaign has been accused of wrongdoing, and no charges are publicly known to have been filed in connection with the investigation. The mayor, who retained lawyers last week to represent him, his campaign and Suggs, has denied knowledge of any impropriety and defended the campaign’s fund-raising.

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