Turkey's Erdogan Got a Half-Billion Dollar Gift From Qatar

(Bloomberg) -- Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has received a luxury jet worth about half a billion dollars from the emir of Qatar.

Erdogan confirmed receipt of the gift as he hit back at critics who’d been questioning whether it was actually paid for with taxpayer money. Turkey had showed interest in purchasing the aircraft when it was up for sale for around $500 million, Erdogan told reporters over the weekend, according to Hurriyet newspaper. But when Qatar’s ruler found out, he donated it to the Turkish presidency free of charge, Erdogan said.

Turkey’s political, military and economic relations with Qatar have improved dramatically as Ankara sided with the gas-rich Gulf state in its tussle with a regional alliance led by Saudi Arabia. Last month, Qatar’s ruler met Erdogan in Ankara and promised to invest $15 billion in the country to try and pull Turkey back from the brink of a financial crisis.

Turkey's Erdogan Got a Half-Billion Dollar Gift From Qatar

Initial reports in Turkish state media that Qatari Emir Tamim Bin Hamad Bin Al Thani gifted the Boeing 747-8i to Turkey triggered a wave of criticism, with a member of the main opposition party filing an official inquiry into the transfer. Lawmaker Gamze Tascier asked Vice President Fuat Oktay to disclose the jet’s price, which she speculated was paid for by the government.

“The plane they mention is now being painted,” Erdogan told reporters flying with him from Azerbaijan to Turkey over the weekend. “God willing, we can have a trip with it when all is over.”

Prestige Matters

The Turkish leader’s spending has long been a topic of attack by opposition parties, who say he’s wasted precious resources on things like a new presidential palace that’s four times the size of Versailles, and fleets of luxury vehicles. Erdogan has said the palace belongs to the government, not himself, and that costs aren’t to be considered when it comes to the prestige of the Turkish state.

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.”

The plane was flown to Istanbul’s Sabiha Gokcen Airport from Basel Mullhouse Freiburg Airport in France on Sept. 11 via an 8.5-hour route that took it over the Atlantic to the Azores, back to Brussels, and then to Istanbul, according to Rogoway.

It’s unclear what will be done with Erdogan’s current jet, an Airbus A-330-200 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 Erdogan immediately after he was sworn in as president. 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 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, Erdogan gifted him a similar car from his own fleet and publicly announced that he was also giving Gormez a private jet.

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