Late President Turgut Özal’s body is expected to be exhumed from his mausoleum in Istanbul today amid reactions from his family, who repeatedly demanded his exhumation in earlier years because they suspect he was murdered.
As Turkey’s eighth president, Özal remains a symbol of fundamental changes in Turkish political history. He died on April 17, 1993 of a heart attack in his office in Ankara. Doubts about the cause of Özal’s death were eliminated, however, because no autopsy was performed. His widow, Semra Özal, has claimed that her husband was assassinated by heavy metal poisoning, she is known to keep some of Özal’s hair in a bank vault outside of Turkey.
Turkey’s State Audit Board (DDK) finally ruled Özal’s death “suspicious,” ruling that his death should be reinvestigated in a report released June 13, in answer to lingering questions.
“The death of an on-duty president is always a suspicious death. It was totally an eclipse of reason that his death was not investigated, no autopsy was performed and no evidence was collected at his home or office,” the report read, laying the blame for these oversights on Özal’s family and state officials at the time.
Özal did not have any history of chronic or serious illnesses, and died unexpectedly when he was in office. Such a death should always be approached as suspicious, read the conclusion of the 44-page report published on the official website of the President’s Office.
Following the state report, on Sept. 17 Prosecutor Kemal Çetin, in charge of an ongoing investigation concerning Özal’s death, issued an order for his exhumation and forwarded it to the top prosecutor in Istanbul, where Özal’s grave is located. Also following the release of the report, Turkey’s President Abdullah Gül met with Özal’s widow, Semra Özal, and son, Ahmet Özal, at the request of the family.
Ahmet Özal, however, said his family was opposed to the exhumation due to religious concerns.
“None of the family members want [the autopsy]. We do not have any information about the timing of the exhumation; the prosecutor will determine that, I suppose. The selection of a committee of forensic medicine experts will take some time, it is not job that is done in one day,” Özal said yesterday, after meeting with Istanbul’s chief public prosecutor at Istanbul’s Çađlayan courthouse to discuss the process in detail. Semra Özal will not witness the exhumation; only he will be attending from the family, Ahmet Özal said.
The rumors that his mother Semra Özal has been keeping some of Turgut Özal’s hair in a foreign bank vault out of Turkey are true, Ahmet Özal said. “We will pass [the hair sample] on [to investigators] for sure, but this is not enough, other procedures also need to be carried out,” he said.
Özal’s successor as president, Süleyman Demirel, has dismissed claims that Özal was assassinated.
Following the release of the DDK report, President Abdullah Gül said he hoped to see a resolution to the mystery surrounding Özal’s death, along with an end to “this kind of debate.”
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