Bill nearly doubles for Turkish President Erdogan's new palace - to US$600 million

A picture shows the new Ak Saray presidential palace (White Palace) on the outskirts of Ankara on Oct 29, 2014. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's grandiose new presidential palace is costing Turkey more than US$600 million (S$770 million), nearly
A picture shows the new Ak Saray presidential palace (White Palace) on the outskirts of Ankara on Oct 29, 2014. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's grandiose new presidential palace is costing Turkey more than US$600 million (S$770 million), nearly twice previous estimates, the country's finance minister said on Tuesday. -- PHOTO: AFP

ANKARA (AFP) - President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's grandiose new presidential palace is costing Turkey more than US$600 million (S$770 million), nearly twice previous estimates, the country's finance minister said on Tuesday.

The vast new 1,000-room palace - more than 30 times larger than the White House and bigger even than France's sprawling Palace of Versailles - has been condemned by the opposition as an absurd extravagance that showed Erdogan was slipping towards authoritarian rule.

Answering questions from opposition MPs, Finance Minister Mehmet Simsek said that the palace was costing around 1.37 billion Turkish lira.

This included over 300 million lira (S$174 million) that has been allocated in the budget for 2015, he added - a steep rise on previously quoted price tag of US$350 million.

Simsek also revealed that another new Erdogan acquisition - a brand new Airbus A330-200 presidential jet - has cost US$185 million.

Erdogan held the first official event at the new presidential palace on Oct 29 to mark Turkey's annual republic day.

But in a sign the building may not be entirely ready, all other official events are still being held at the President's former Cankaya residence and it is not clear when all functions will transfer to the new complex.

The palace, built in forest land on the outskirts of Ankara, has been dubbed by the press as the Ak Saray (White Palace) but is officially known as the Cumhurbaskanligi Sarayi (Presidential Palace).

Some Erdogan critics have compared the 200,000 sq m edifice to the People's Palace built by Romania's communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, but it is actually smaller than the building in Bucharest.

The post of President has been a largely ceremonial in Turkey until Erdogan took office in August after over a decade as prime minister.

He vowed to wield real power, something he has clearly done in his first weeks in office, clearly remaining Turkey's No. 1.

Civil servants and advisers working for the President are also likely to be housed in the palace.

Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu is to move into the Cankaya Palace in downtown Ankara which was once home to the modern republic's founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

For the opposition, the new palace marks another betrayal by Erdogan of Turkey's secular heritage bequeathed by Ataturk, who based the republic on a strict separation of religion and state.