Company officials arrested after Soma mining disaster

Five employees of the Soma coal mining company have been arrested following a court decision late on 18th May as part of the ongoing investigation into last week’s coal mining disaster that claimed the lives of 301 workers, Turkish daily ‘Hurriyet’ reports.

Soma Coal Mining Company operating manager Akın Çelik, engineers Yalçın Erdoğan and Ertan Ersoy, and shift supervisors Yasin Kurnaz and Hilmi Kazık remained in custody overnight after lengthy interrogation.

Çelik was one of the senior managers who participated to the company’s press conference on 16th May along with the owner, Alp Gürkan. Another 15 people were released on probation pending trial, while five other suspects are expected to be sent to court on 19th May.

Chief Prosecutor Bekir Şahiner said those detained were charged with “causing multiples cases of death by negligence.”

25 people were taken to custody upon prosecutors’ order including Can Gürkan, CEO of the group and son of the company’s owner, Doğan News Agency reported.

However the owner Alp Gürkan, as well as the company’s chief operating manager, Ramazan Doğru, are not included in the list of the suspects, said Sezgin Tanrıkulu, a deputy from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP).

These are the first arrests and consequent detentions of those suspected of being responsible since the tragic accident on 13th May, as public pressure mounts over the authorities’ mishandling of the accident.

Özgür Özel, another CHP deputy, criticised the type of charge brought by the prosecution. “This is a charge for a traffic crime. Suspects should have been charged with reckless homicide instead, which would allow the judge to jail them for up to 25 years,” Özel said.

Two of four mine entrances have been bricked up, after the authorities called for an end to rescue works.

All mining activities have also been suspended, following a decision by the Turkish Labour Inspection Board. Only inspectors and prosecutors investigating the accident are now allowed to enter the mine.

Meanwhile, elsewhere, a lawsuit against Alp Gürkan, the head of Soma Coal Mine Company, has been brought on fraud charges, ‘Hürriyet’ reported. Prosecutors are demanding a prison term from six to 18 years in the case, which is separate from the investigation into the mine disaster.

The indictment prepared by the Istanbul Public Prosecutor’s Office demands to try Gürkan on charges of being a member of a criminal organisation founded by businessman Korkmaz Yiğit, and being involved in a fraudulent bankruptcy declaration.

Around 17 suspects, including Gürkan, reportedly bought property in various neighbourhoods of Istanbul on behalf of Korkmaz Yiğit. All suspects, including Gürkan, are expected to stand trial next month at the Istanbul 12th High Criminal Court.

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