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Cablegate: Suzer Plaza Controversy Continues

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.





E.O. 12958: N/A

Sensitive but unclassified. Not for internet distribution.
This message was coordinated with Embassy Ankara.

1. (SBU) Summary: Istanbul's controversial Suzer Plaza
skyscraper, which houses the Ritz Carlton Hotel and was
partially financed by OPIC, has returned to the headlines in
recent weeks. In early January, two restaurants at the
building's base were targeted for partial demolition by city
officials for lack of a proper building permit. In a stealth
operation, a city demolition team accompanied by hundreds of
policemen descended on the property without warning to
enforce the judgment, as startled hotel guests watched and
listened from the floors above. Then in late February,
Istanbul Technical University, which owns adjoining property,
filed suit to force demolition of the entire structure,
basing its case on a recent decision by the Danistay
(Turkey's final court for administrative decisions) that
zoning permission for the property was improperly granted in
the 1980s. Suzer Group officials ascribe the restaurant
operation to "political hostility" to the building from high
levels of the GOT and Istanbul municipality, pointing out
that Mayor Kadir Topbas has recently suggested on Turkish
television that Mustafa Suzer should tear down the building's
top six floors. They dismiss the ITU suit as a minor
"nuisance" designed to curry favor with building opponents,
and predict it will fail. In the meantime, we have rebuffed
Suzer Group requests that the USG weigh in with local
officials on the building's behalf, suggesting instead that
the group continue to use legal avenues to defend itself.
End Summary.

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2. (SBU) Municipality Message: The controversial (infamous in
the view of many if not most Istanbullus) Suzer Plaza
building returned both to the front pages of Istanbul
newspapers and to Turkish courts in recent weeks. Last in
the news late last year, when Prime Minister Recip Erdogan,
who as Istanbul Mayor in the 1990s fought unsuccessfully to
prevent its construction, pointedly refused to attend a
Capital Markets Board Meeting in the Ritz Carlton Hotel, the
building was also subsequently targeted by current mayor
Kadir Topbas, who told a television interviewer that he would
like to ask owner Mustafa Suzer to "tear the building's top
six floors down." Subsequently, on January 7, a city
demolitions team accompanied by hundreds of policemen
descended on two restaurants at the building's lower level
entrance (which is separate from the Ritz Carlton Hotel
several floors above). As surprised guests watched and
listened from the hotel, they demolished the restaurants'
winter gardens, which they indicated had not been properly
licensed. (Note: Physically the winter gardens were not part
of the original fabric of the building, but were later
ground-level additions to give these restaurants "open-air"
premises.) In meetings with us held at their request, Suzer
Group officials, including Suzer's son Serhan Suzer,
challenged the municipality's legal case and argued that the
action had been taken not just without warning, but in
violation of a court injunction that one restaurant owner
secured while his workers briefly held the demolition crew at

3. (SBU) A Broader Threat? Suzer, who was accompanied by
Ritz Carlton manager Allan Federer, expressed concern that
the municipality would subsequently turn its attention to the
building as a whole and attempt to enforce the Mayor's dictum
that its height be reduced. He ascribed the municipality's
actions to pressure from Ankara, noting that his family had
previously enjoyed warm relations with Topbas, and asked that
the USG intervene with appropriate decisionmakers, given both
the presence in the building of the Ritz Carlton and the 55
million USD in OPIC financing that enabled the building to be
built. In a subsequent (and unrelated) meeting with the
Consul General, City Planning Chief Tankut Gundogar commented
briefly on the Suzer case, noting that the restaurants were
in violation of the law, and that there are "broader issues
with the building." He stressed that these would be worked
out in a cooperative fashion, however, and suggested that the
Suzers had sought an international hotel as tenant in order
to act as a buffer against any possible legal action against

4. (SBU) ITU Case: The furor surrounding the restaurant raid
has quieted in recent weeks--indeed, in a surprising twist,
we understand that a permit that will enable one restaurant
to rebuild its winter garden may soon be approved--but a new
front flared up in late February when Istanbul Technical
University (ITU), a long-embittered building neighbor, filed
suit to force its demolition. The case, which Suzer
officials describe as a "nuisance," results from a recent
Danistay decision that determined that Turkish officials had
erred in 1984 when they removed from the site's deed a
19th-century edict by Sultan Abdulhamid prohibiting any
construction upon it. The Danistay ruled that such an action
could only be taken by court decision, rather than
administrative fiat. Suzer officials characterize the case
as meaningless, as their administrative procedure is legally
defensible, and in any case can be remedied simply by
recourse to the relevant court. They ascribe the case to the
university's desire to curry favor with the building's
powerful opponents.

5. (SBU) Comment: Consulate has kept OPIC informed of the
recent developments, and remains in consultation with it and
Embassy Ankara regarding the Suzer Group's request for USG
advocacy. Our view is that this is now a dispute between
Turkish entities and that it is not appropriate for the USG
to become involved. If and when it appears that the Ritz
Carlton is being targeted because it is an American company,
then it would be appropriate to act, but we are far from that
point, and as Tankut Gundogar indicated, it is more likely
that the Ritz's presence has spared the building from more
intense pressure. Given the long and tortured history of the
building, we thus strongly recommend that the USG not take a
role. A packet of information provided to P/E Chief by
Serhan Suzer characterized the building as a "pillar of law,"
given the fact that it has emerged victorious from every case
filed against it. Perhaps the most telling fact, however, is
the number of suits involved-- 43 at that point, but now 44
and counting. End Comment.

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