Late President Özal died of poisoning, daily claims
Late President Turgut Özal, whose body was exhumed from his İstanbul grave as part of an investigation into the circumstances of his death, was killed by a highly deadly poison, according to a report that appeared in a Turkish newspaper on Friday.

The Bugün daily cited an unpublished autopsy report prepared by the Council of Forensic Medicine (ATK) and said Özal was poisoned by "strychnine creatine," a powerful poison that leads to respiratory failure in 15-20 minutes and could also cause a heart attack.

An investigation into the suspicious death of the former president began earlier this year after a number of witnesses spoke of unusual circumstances on the day of the death of the then-president, who was reported to have suffered a heart attack. The Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor's Office recently issued a warrant to exhume the remains of the president for toxicological testing.

Özal, the eighth president of the Turkish Republic, died of heart failure in April of 1993 at an Ankara hospital at the age of 65 while serving in office.

Prosecutors decided in September that Özal's remains should be exhumed and an autopsy performed after a state supervisory board, acting on the order of President Abdullah Gül, released a report in June that voiced suspicions about the death.

The report was ordered in response to the suspicions of Özal's family and friends about his death and a subsequent investigation.

After the reburial of Özal, the ATK said it would release its report in two months.

In the leaked autopsy report, Bugün claimed that the doctors who conducted the autopsy investigated Özal's bone marrow, parts of his internal organs and samples of other parts of his body. The examination revealed a high level of strychnine in his body, according to Bugün.

The report said the chemical substance was not used in embalming Özal's body. It noted that the poison was widely used against rats and it is currently banned in Turkey. It is speculated that the poison could have been mixed in with Özal's food or drink.

ATK President Haluk İnce, however, released a statement on Friday saying that the report has not yet been completed and examinations still continue. "I have no idea how such a news report appeared in the media. We [the ATK] are not the source for the report," he said, and added that the ATK report, which is still in progress, does not mention the word "strychnine creatine." İnce also said the ATK has plans to finalize the report in December and hand it over directly to the prosecutor's office. "The office may share it with the press if it wishes," he noted.

But Özal's son Ahmet Özal, who earlier alleged that his father had been poisoned, was quoted on Friday by Turkish media saying that the findings are not a surprise for him. "We have been saying for years that my father had been poisoned. We know very well that some people exerted efforts in order not to allow the investigation of the death of my father. I have fought for 18 years for the truth to be revealed," he said, adding that the ongoing investigation will also find out the perpetrators of his father's murder.

Justice and Development Party (AK Party) parliamentary group deputy chairman Mustafa Elitaş also commented about the poisoning claims and said the Ergenekon investigation should deepen to shed light on other dark incidents in Turkey's past. Ergenekon is a shadowy network nested within the state bureaucracy that is believed to be behind a series of political assassinations and other murders.

Additionally, Forestry and Waterworks Minister Veysel Eroğlu said claims about Özal's poisoning are very serious and they should be thoroughly investigated by related bodies. "It is clear that some dark circles are engaged in such attempts [assassination of political leaders] in order to prevent Turkey from improving," he stated.

Forensic Professor Hamit Hancı, who spoke to Bugün about the leaked ATK report, said strychnine is capable of killing any creature if it is used in a high dose. "Strychnine is a poisonous substance. It was used to poison dogs in the past. Then its use [on dogs] was banned as it was found to be against animal rights. It is a very effective poison, and therefore, it may be used to kill people," he stated.

The Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor's office is also investigating a number of unusual circumstances that came to light following Özal's alleged heart attack. Certain facts -- including that on the day of his death his in-house doctor and nurse were both out, the staff were not able to start the ambulance due to a mechanical problem, there was a lack of first aid equipment at the presidential residence and other similarly unusual issues -- have led to suspicions surrounding the death of the former president.

Additionally, the office has focused on inconsistencies between the statements made by Özal's doctor and his family members regarding the initial failure to perform an autopsy. Özal's doctor, Cengiz Aslan, claimed that the family of the former president did not request an autopsy, but the Özal family denies this claim.

Former Health Minister Halil Şıvgın, who was in office during Özal's term as president, spoke to the private Cihan news agency and said the circumstances surrounding the former president's death makes one think that some circles "took all measures in order not to allow Özal to live." "A doctor should have been at the [presidential] palace at the time when Özal had a heart attack, but there was no doctor there. It was Özal's aide who rendered him first aid. Özal should have been taken to a hospital, but there was no fully-equipped ambulance at the palace. The ambulance dated from the 1970s and had mechanical problems. The [late] president should have been taken to the closest hospital. But they picked the furthest hospital, the Gülhane Military Academy of Medicine [GATA]. Then they changed their mind on the road, and drove to Hacettepe. But they did not enter the hospital from the emergency building and lost five or six minutes around the building. I call it all negligence. Prosecutors should investigate if there is an ulterior motive in this negligence," he stated.

The Republican People's Party (CHP), however, found Bugün's claims "suspicious." CHP Konya deputy Atilla Kart said his party is approaching the said ATK report with question marks in its mind due to the institute's "wrongful findings" in past occasions.

After a period of military rule following the country's 1980 coup, Özal dominated Turkish politics as prime minister from 1983-89, after which Parliament elected him president. While prime minister, Özal survived an assassination attempt by a right-wing gunman in 1988 when he was shot at a party congress, suffering only a wound to his finger.

Seen as a visionary who helped shape modern Turkey with free market economic policies, Özal also lent firm support to the West, backing the US-led coalition that expelled Iraq from Kuwait in 1991.

Özal led Turkey out of military rule in the 1980s and drove far-reaching economic reform.

(Cihan/Today's Zaman) CİHAN
Last Modified: 2012-11-02 20:00:02
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