Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has stashed some of his wealth in cash and gold in multiple walk-in vaults he had custom made for the basement of a villa in his family compound in Istanbul, two witnesses told Nordic Monitor.
One witness saw the vaults after the were being newly installed in the basement of the luxury villa while he was a guest at a private event held by Erdogan in 2011.
“I was being ushered to a place to perform an evening prayer, and we went through a basement hall where I saw room-size vaults whose doors were still covered in protective plastic sheeting,” he told the Monitor on condition of anonymity for safety reasons during a phone interview.
He described the steel doors of the safes as similar to bank vaults that can be opened by turning a locked wheel from the outside. “I saw wheels on the doors that resembled the steering wheel of a ship,” he said.
“I think maids made a mistake when they were guiding me to a place where I could pray and accidentally took me through the basement, because when the guards noticed, I was immediately rushed out of there,” he added.
The witness fled Turkey to escape a crackdown on government critics but still has family members residing in Turkey.
The first-hand account of the vaults built to hide Erdogan’s wealth was actually corroborated with a 2013 voice recording during which he was heard instructing his son in a panic to get rid of the cash in his house amid sweeping detentions as part of investigations into corruption, reported the Monitor.
Another witness who came forward to confirm the existence of the vaults, also speaking anonymously, said the vaults were manufactured and delivered by multiple firms.
“The vaults were designed in such a way that a forklift can be operated inside in and outside of it,” the second witness explained, describing the basement as having access to the driveway on which cars or trucks can be parked for loading and unloading cash transported on pallets.
The witness noted that only a handful of guards, totally loyal to Erdogan, were allowed near the villa where the safes were installed.
An audio recording leaked in February 2014 to YouTube showed that Erdogan also had large sums of money — as much as $1 billion — in his houses, including the villa in Istanbul.