Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's palace complex in Ankara. (Umit Bektas/Reuters)

On Tuesday, just days before an important vote, Recep Tayyip Erdogan's attorney told reporters that the Turkish president would be seeking 100,000 Turkish lira ($37,000) in compensation from opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu.

Kilicdaroglu, head of the secularist Republican People's Party (CHP), is running against Ahmet Davutoglu of Erdogan's Justice and Development Party in Sunday's election. His alleged digressions? Implying that the Turkish president had toilets with gold-plated seats in his 1,150-room palace.

"Gentlemen in Ankara, palaces have been built for you, planes bought, Mercedes cars purchased ... golden seats have been bought, that's how you use the toilet," Kilicdaroglu said at a campaign rally on Saturday, according to the news agency Reuters.

It's a bizarre allegation, perhaps, and — at first at least — it prompted an appropriately bizarre response from Erdogan. On Sunday, Erdogan invited Kilicdaroglu to his home to inspect his toilets. If even a single gold-plated seat was found, Erdogan said in an interview with state-run TRT television, he would resign as president. If none was found, he said, Kilicdaroglu must resign.

It's quite a bold move, and one that seems to suggest that, no, Erdogan doesn't own a gold-plated toilet. In fact, it seems that Kilicdaroglu doesn't really think Erdogan has one. In an interview on Monday, the opposition leader said his reference to gold-plated toilet seats was simply intended to illustrate the extravagances of officials and wasn't meant to be taken literally.

Perhaps that is a fair point: In recent years, stories of gold-plated toilets have become shorthand for mindless self-indulgence — even when they are not true.

In the United States, for example, hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons and ex-wife Kimora Lee Simmons were once said to have a gold-leaf-and-carved-jade toilet in their New Jersey mansion (this is apparently true: In 2007, Kimora told reporters that Oprah Winfrey and "some king" were the only other people in the world with the same toilet). Kanye West and Kim Kardashian also were said to have spent $750,0000 on four gold-plated toilets in 2013, though that report was later disputed.

The trend of gold-toilet rumors spread abroad, too. There were rumors (never confirmed and perhaps scurrilous) that the late Saudi leader King Abdullah gave his daughter a gold-plated toilet as a wedding gift.

The most infamous gold toilet of recent years, however, was the one that didn't belong to Viktor Yanukovych, who was ousted as president of Ukraine in early 2014. After Yanukovych was forced to flee Kiev in February, opposition figures overran his mansion in Mezhyhirya, about 12 miles outside the Ukrainian capital, and began sharing what they found.

In the chaos that ensued, someone shared a picture of a bizarre golden toilet on social media, alleging it was Yanukovych's.

This was swiftly debunked. The wonderful toilet pictured above did not belong to Yanukovych, though the realities of his mansion weren't much less ridiculous (the former Ukrainian leader owned a vast garage of classic cars, a personal zoo and a galleon resting in a man-made lake).

The case of Yanukovych's mansion may be illustrative vis-a-vis the dispute in Turkey. The gold-plated toilet that didn't exist in an extravagant mansion definitely became a symbol of the opulence and corruption of Yanukovych's leadership.

Even if there's no gold-plated toilet in Erdogan's palace, unveiled just last year on the outskirts of Ankara, it's hard to deny its extravagance. The palace is said to have cost $620 million to construct, and with a reported size of 2,150,000 square feet, it has almost 50 times the floor space of the White House.

On the left, Google Earth image of the new Ak Saray in Ankara. On the right, the White House in Washington, D.C.
On the left, Google Earth image of the presidential palace in Ankara. On the right, the White House in Washington, D.C.

Opposition leaders and activists have said that the complex was unlicensed and illegally constructed on protected lands. Critics say Erdogan, who also served as prime minister for a decade, was instrumental in pushing through a law to change Turkey's parliamentary system into a presidential system, with himself in charge.

“A president who respects the rule of law and court decisions would not live in an illegal palace,” Gursel Tekin, secretary general of the Republican People’s Party, told the Associated Press this week. “It is out of the question for Kemal Kilicdaroglu, who has espoused the notion of the supremacy of the law ... to go to the illegal palace.”

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