Warrants issued following years of government “amnesties” issued to builders who dodge safety regulations

Turkish officials have issued arrest warrants for at least 130 building contractors over alleged breaches of safety codes which they say led to the collapse of thousands of buildings in last week’s earthquake.

More than 35,000 people are now known to have died in Turkey and neighbouring Syria as a result of last Monday’s 7.8-magnitude tremor, which was followed by a 7.5-magnitude aftershock.

The Turkish government said that about 6,500 buildings had collapsed in the country. Officials have already taken at least 12 people into custody, including building contractors, according to the state-run Anadolu News Agency.

The Turkish Justice Ministry has also ordered officials to appoint prosecutors to bring criminal charges against all the “constructors and those responsible” for the collapse of buildings that failed to meet building safety codes introduced following a similar disaster in 1999 that killed 17,000.

Turkey earthquake shutterstock

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Nearly 6,500 buildings in Turkey have collapsed due to last week’s earthquake

It follows years of warnings from experts that buildings in the earthquake-prone region were unsafe due to corruption and government amnesties for contractors which ignored building regulations, part of a policy designed to spur a construction boom.

Among those detained over the weekend was Mehmet Ertan Akay, the builder of a collapsed complex in the city of Gaziantep, who was charged with involuntary manslaughter and violation of public construction law, a Turkish news agency reported.

Mehmet Yasar Coskun, the constructor of a 12-storey building in Hatay province with 250 apartments that was completely destroyed, was also detained on Friday at an Istanbul airport while trying to board a flight to Montenegro, according to the New York Times.

Coskun was said to have told prosecutors that his building had been licensed and audited by local and state authorities.

Two builders of a ruined 14-storey building in Adana were also detained in Cyprus after fleeing Turkey in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake, according to the Turkish-controlled Northern Cyprus administration.

Up to 75,000 buildings across the affected earthquake zone in southern Turkey have been given construction amnesties, according to Pelin Pınar Giritlioğlu, Istanbul head of the Union of Chambers of Turkish Engineers and Architects’ Chamber of City Planners.

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Saturday that the earthquake was “three times bigger and more destructive than the 1999 quake, the greatest disaster in our country’s recent memory”.

The disaster was described by United Nations aid chief Martin Griffiths as the “worst event in 100 years in this region”.