Erdogan-Hariri surprise meeting angers Turkish opposition

The main opposition party is calling on the Turkish government to be held accountable for the corruption allegations and has blamed the AKP for the slowest Internet bandwidth in the country due to the inefficient allocation of state resources. (AFP PHOTO /Turkish Presidential Press service)
The main opposition party is calling on the Turkish government to be held accountable for the corruption allegations and has blamed the AKP for the slowest Internet bandwidth in the country due to the inefficient allocation of state resources. (AFP PHOTO /Turkish Presidential Press service)
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Updated 13 January 2021

Erdogan-Hariri surprise meeting angers Turkish opposition

Erdogan-Hariri surprise meeting angers Turkish opposition
  • The criticisms of the opposition lawmaker served as a reminder of the long-hidden scandal involving the telecommunications company

JEDDAH: In a surprise visit, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan met one-on-one with Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri on Jan. 8 in Istanbul.

The cooperation avenues between the two countries, including boosting economic and business ties, were discussed during the friendly meeting, in which Hariri thanked Erdogan for his support to Turkish investments made in Lebanon.

Not everyone, however, was satisfied with this visit by the Lebanese prime minister, whose name has been often associated with corruption cases in Turkey, especially regarding the alleged involvement of the Hariri family in Turk Telekom, the country’s leading company in the field of information and communication technologies and once its most lucrative.

In his parliamentary speech on Monday, Faik Oztrak, spokesman of the main opposition party (CHP), reacted to the warm welcome of Hariri by Erdogan, saying, “How can you sit at the same table with this man who made billions of dollars without paying a penny on Telekom?”

The Turkish president’s Senior Adviser Yigit Bulut and Turkey’s Vice President Fuat Oktay were also members of the board of directors of Turk Telekom, who benefitted from high salaries during the privatization process. Oktay worked as the deputy chairman of the company for a long time.

“This family borrowed money from Turkish banks and paid the treasury’s privatization price for Telekom. Then, they plundered millions of dollars in dividend income from Turkey to Lebanon. He placed $3.5 billion in loan debt on our banks,” Oztrak said.

The criticisms of the opposition lawmaker served as a reminder of the long-hidden scandal involving the telecommunications company, which came under the spotlight in March 2013, when the pro-government daily Sabah revealed that Turk Telekom had secretly and illegally put its copper cables up for sale to transform them into cheaper fiber optic cables.

But this sale, which involved thousands of tons of scraped cables — worth up to $10 million dollars — was not officially made known to the stock market, despite the existence of two court rulings that prevented the Lebanese Hariri Group, owning 55 percent of the stakes in the company, from performing this sale, as it did not have any official approval from the Turkish Treasury.

This corruption went unnoticed for years, and no in-depth investigation was carried out, neither about the amount of copper sold nor about the buyers.

Turk Telekom was privatized in 2005, just three years after the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) came into power. Ojer Telecommunications, owned by the Hariri family, acquired its stakes for $6.5 billion by receiving loans from dozens of Turkish and international lenders.

In 2018, the Hariri family failed to pay an installment on Turkey’s once largest corporate loan of $4.75 billion, and its holdings were taken over by some 20 lenders, including several Turkish banks.

The main opposition party is calling on the Turkish government to be held accountable for the corruption allegations and has blamed the AKP for the slowest Internet bandwidth in the country due to the inefficient allocation of state resources.

Oztrak has been criticizing the government’s handling of the Turk Telekom issue since 2017. In another parliamentary question that he put forward in July 2017, Oztrak said that public resources were being used to compensate for the failed payment of the Hariri family in Turk Telekom, with public authorities closing their eyes to the ongoing corruption.

In answer to Oztrak’s parliamentary inquiry, then Vice Prime Minister Nurettin Canikli said that Turk Telekom transferred about $3.1 billion abroad as a profit share.
 


Lebanon approves law to import vaccines as coronavirus hits new record

Lebanese Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri heads a legislative session, as Lebanon's parliament approved a law that paves the way for the government to ink deals for coronavirus vaccinations, at UNESCO Palace in Beirut, Lebanon January 15, 2021. (Reuters)
Lebanese Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri heads a legislative session, as Lebanon's parliament approved a law that paves the way for the government to ink deals for coronavirus vaccinations, at UNESCO Palace in Beirut, Lebanon January 15, 2021. (Reuters)
Updated 15 January 2021

Lebanon approves law to import vaccines as coronavirus hits new record

Lebanese Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri heads a legislative session, as Lebanon's parliament approved a law that paves the way for the government to ink deals for coronavirus vaccinations, at UNESCO Palace in Beirut, Lebanon January 15, 2021. (Reuters)

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s parliament approved a draft law allowing imports of coronavirus vaccines as the tiny nation hit a new record in case numbers Friday and more hospitals reported they were at full capacity.
The new daily toll of 6,154 cases and 44 deaths came on the second day of a nationwide 11-day curfew that the government and doctors hope will reign in the dramatic surge of the virus.
Lebanon, a country of about 6 million people, has witnessed a sharp increase of cases in recent weeks, after some 80,000 expatriates flew in to celebrate Christmas and New Year.
During the holiday season, restrictions were eased to encourage spending by expatriates amid a suffocating economic and financial crisis, the worst in Lebanon’s modern history.
On Friday, the American University Medical Center, one of Lebanon’s largest and most prestigious hospitals, said in a statement that its health care workers were overwhelmed. The hospital’s ICUs and regular coronavirus units have reached full capacity and so did the emergency room, it said.
“We are unable to find beds for even the most critical patients,” the hospital said, urging people in Lebanon to help by taking extreme precautionary measures to “overcome the catastrophe we are facing.”
Mazen El-Sayed, an associated professor in the department of emergency medicine, described the situation as “tragic,” anticipating that the next two weeks would be even more dire.
In southern Lebanon, the Ragheb Harb Hospital also said that its COVID-19 units were now. “We are working beyond our capacity. The situation is very dangerous,” the hospital said in a statement.
The curfew, which began Thursday, is the strictest measure Lebanon has taken since the start of the pandemic. But many have expressed concern the measures have come too late — many hospitals have already reached maximum capacity for coronavirus patients, some have run out of beds, oxygen tanks and ventilators while others have halted elective surgeries.
Lebanon was able to contain the virus in its early stages but the numbers started climbing after measures were eased in early July and following the massive deadly blast at Beirut’s port in August.
Following bureaucratic delays, the country now is putting hopes on vaccines that are expected to start arriving next month.
Parliament’s approval opens the way for imports of vaccines from around the world, including the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.
Health Minister Hamad Hassan, who is hospitalized with the coronavirus, had said that once the draft law is approved, the first deliveries of vaccines should start arriving in February.
Lebanon has reserved 2.7 million doses of vaccines from multiple international companies and 2.1 million to be provided by Pfizer, Diab’s office says.
Lebanon has registered nearly 243,000 coronavirus cases and some 1,825 confirmed deaths.