Future Party leader Davutoğlu slams President Erdoğan for targeting university

Former Turkish prime minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, who launched his Future Party last week, said the treatment of Istanbul Şehir University was a matter of whether one stood with the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) as evidenced by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s comments on the matter.

Ahmet Davutoğlu said President Erdoğan did not include former minister of environment and urban planning İdris Güllüce among people he associated with the university, i.e. Davutoğlu himself, former ministers Ali Babacan, Mehmet Şimşek and Feridun Bilgin, because Güllüce is still a member of the AKP.

“This alone shows that the issue is not about the loan … but whether one obeys the president or not,” Davutoğlu said.

The injustice against Istanbul Şehir University was rendered invisible due to the lack of press freedom in Turkey, the former Erdoğan ally said.

Turkey’s Council of Higher Education (YÖK) announced on Thursday that it was temporarily suspending the university’s operating permit and turning its management over to the public-owned Marmara University, as the financial deadlock was not resolved and university staff remained unpaid since October. 

A Turkish court last month ruled to freeze assets of the university, which was established by a leading conservative foundation and had Davutoğlu among its main founders, after the state-owned Halkbank asked for an arrest of funds citing the university’s inability to pay back its loan of $ 70 million.

President Erdoğan had accused Davutoğlu of a fraudulent transfer of ownership for the land allocated to the university to be used for its campus during his term as prime minister. 

The only thing to do when one accuses a former prime minister and former ministers is to take the matter to the judiciary, Davutoğlu said.

“I say this addressing Mr. President: If there is fraud, I am here, launch the legal proceedings. I consent to the highest degree of punishment,” Davutoğlu added. “I am prepared to be held to account.”

The reason the matter is not taken to the courts was because the university did not receive any credit from Halkbank during his term as the prime minister, Davutoğlu said. “The investment loan discussed today was paid in September 2016, during Mr. Binali Yıldırım’s term as prime minister.”

“The president being unaware of the sale of a company valued at $ 500 million, while having information on a university’s debt of $ 50 million which it is able to pay is a contradiction,” Davutoğlu said, referring to the sale of Turkish pastry giant Simit Sarayı.

The state-run Ziraat Bank had applied to Turkey’s competition authority to purchase the majority share in Simit Sarayı, which has been facing financial difficulties, but President Erdoğan opposed the plans and said the bank’s CEO assured him that the takeover would not go ahead.

Davutoğlu said he refrained from speaking on the matter in the past to avoid politicisation, but he would speak up on a matter of interest for Turkey in the future as the leader of a political party.