By Our Foreign Correspondent
DAILYNEWS UG |AVIATION|
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says it has been given a jet worth around $500m (£380m) by Qatar’s emir.
Mr Erdogan said Sheikh Tamim Al Thani had donated the Boeing 747-8i to the Turkish state after hearing that it was interested in buying it.
Opposition MPs had expressed concern that the president was using taxpayers’ money to buy a jet as the country struggles to avert a financial crisis.
Turkey has backed Qatar in a year-long stand-off with other Arab states.
Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain severed all diplomatic and trade links with the tiny gas-rich state over its close ties to Iran and its alleged support for jihadists – a charge it denies.
Turkey sent food by sea and air to prevent shortages in Qatar’s supermarkets after its only land border was closed and ships serving it were banned from many ports.
The Boeing 747-8i was described by The Drive website as the largest and most ezpensive Jet in the World when it was put on sale last month.
The aircraft was reportedly only delivered to Qatar in 2015, after being refitted to carry 76 passengers, rather than the usual 400. On board are staterooms, lounges, boardrooms, first class seating areas, and even a hospital.
After the jet landed in Turkey last week, an opposition MP tabled a parliamentary question asking Vice-President Fuat Oktay to disclose whether it had been purchased by the state.
Speaking to reporters flying with him from Azerbaijan to Turkey over the weekend, Mr Erdogan said Qatar’s emir had given the plane as a gift after learning that the Turkish government had expressed an interest in it.
“He said: ‘I won’t take money from Turkey. I give this as a present to Turkey’,” the president quoted Sheikh Hamad as saying.
Mr Erdogan told reporters the plane was being repainted, adding: “God willing, we can have a trip with it when all is over.”
Last month, Qatar’s emir approved a package of economic projects, investments and deposits worth $15bn (£11.4bn) to support Turkey’s economy and currency.
The Turkish lira has lost almost 40% of its value against the dollar this year, driven by worries over Mr Erdogan’s influence on monetary policy and a diplomatic row with the United States.
State broadcaster TRT Haber said last week the Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani had given Erdogan the aircraft, which Turkish media said was a Boeing 747, sparking criticism from Turkey’s opposition.
A lawmaker from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), Sezgin Tanrikulu, had expressed concern that the aircraft had been bought rather than donated, noting that Turkey was in an economic crisis, the Hurriyet newspaper reported.
The plane, which would normally carry 400 people, had been refitted to seat just 76, the newspaper said.
Erdogan said Qatar’s emir had donated the plane, which he said was worth around $500 million, to the Turkish state after hearing that Turkey had expressed interest in buying it.
“He said, ‘I won’t take money from Turkey. I give this as a present to Turkey’,” Erdogan told reporters on a flight back from Azerbaijan at the weekend.
Turkey is grappling with a sharp fall in its currency, double-digit inflation and an expected sharp economic downturn.
Qatar, its main Arab ally, approved a $15 billion package of economic projects, investments and deposits last month, giving a boost to the battered lira.
Erdogan told reporters the plane was being repainted and once it was finished “we will travel with it. But you will be getting on the plane of the Republic of Turkey, not my plane”.
Reporting by Daren Butler, Writing by Sarah Dadouch,