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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 October 2018

Turkey's leader defends receiving half billion dollar luxury jet from Qatar

Costs are not to be considered when it comes to the prestige of the Turkish state, says Recep Tayyip Erdogan

The Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamin bin Hamad Al Thani has given a Boeing 747-8 to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The National
The Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamin bin Hamad Al Thani has given a Boeing 747-8 to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The National

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has defended his decision to accept a half billion dollar luxury plane from Qatar at a time of economic hardship, saying it was a gift not a purchase.

State broadcaster TRT Habar last week said the Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamin bin Hama Al Thani had given President Erdogan the Boeing 747-8i plane.

However President Erdogan said the plane was donated to the Turkish state, not to him personally, after Turkey expressed an interest in buying it.

"He said, 'I won't take money from Turkey. I will give this plan as a gift,’" President Erdogan told reporters on a flight back from Azerbaijan at the weekend.

Once the plane had been repainted, it would be used his trips, President Erdogan said. Nevertheless, "the plane is not mine, it is the Turkish Republic's,” he added.

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Turkey is grappling with a sharp fall in its currency, double-digit inflation and an expected sharp economic downturn.

After the president’s comments on the plan, opposition CHP leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu questioned his "honour" over the move to accept such a gift.

"How can it not cause you discomfort?" Mr Kilicdaroglu said on Monday.

The CHP and Erdogan's critics have repeatedly accused the Turkish leader of having a penchant for wasting precious resources, including on the vast new Ankara presidential palace that’s four times the size of Versailles and fleets of luxury vehicles.

President Erdogan however has hit back by saying that such facilities are national assets worthy of a state of Turkey's importance.

The plane is also a new symbol of the close relationship between Doha and Ankara that has seen both sides help the other in times of trouble.

Qatar, Turkey’s main Arab ally, approved a $15 billion package of investments last month, giving a boost to the battered lira.

Ankara, one of the top exporters to the emirate, has provided unstinting support to Doha after the Arab Quartet severed ties with Doha in June 2017 over its supposed support for extremism.

The jet was produced in 2012 and is designed for 76 passengers and eighteen crew, according to a report in thedrive.com by Tyler Rogaway of Aviation Intel, which follows developments in the industry. It has ornate lounges, staterooms and even its own hospital, according to the report, which called it “the largest and most expensive private jet in the world.”

It’s unclear what will be done with President Erdogan’s current jet, an Airbus A330-200 that he received in 2014. That purchase also sparked controversy because the jet was commissioned for the prime minister’s office, but was delivered to President Erdogan immediately after he was sworn in as president. The Turkish newspaper Daily Sabah cited an aviation expert at the time estimating the plane’s cost at $221 million, with an additional $100 million spent on the custom refit.

Another jet-related controversy erupted in 2015, when President Erdogan responded to public uproar about the chief of the religious affairs directorate’s $385,000 Mercedes. When the head of the directorate, Mehmet Gormez, returned the vehicle under public pressure, President Erdogan gifted him a similar car from his own fleet and publicly announced that he was also giving Gormez a private jet.