Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu has said he would give Turkish autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan until Tuesday to reveal who exposed state secrets to Turkish-Iranian businessman Reza Zarrab, a key witness in the trial of a Turkish bank executive in the United States over violations of sanctions on Iran.
The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) previously gave the US two diplomatic notes to return Zarrab to Turkey, on the grounds that he is “a clean guy,” Kılıçdaroğlu said on Sunday in an opening ceremony in the southern province of Mersin, reported by Hürriyet daily news.
“But once Zarrab started to sing like a canary, then the AKP said he was a spy, a traitor. Up until yesterday, he was your guy and you were arm in arm. When he received the money, he was good, but now that he is talking, he is bad. I give Erdoğan until Tuesday to explain who exposed the state’s secrets to Zarrab,” Kılıçdaroğlu said.
Kılıçdaroğlu’s comments came a day after Turkish prosecutors ordered the seizure of Zarrab’s assets, citing a part of the Turkish penal code that addresses the leaking of state secrets. Zarrab had previously claimed in a trial in a Manhattan court that he had paid millions of dollars in bribes to a former Turkish economy minister to facilitate illegal gold transactions with sanctions-hit Iran.
CHP parliamentary group deputy chairman Özgür Özel has also said on Sunday that CHP Chairman Kılıçdaroğlu would reveal “big news” on Tuesday if President Erdoğan and Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım do not disclose the facts about who provided official documents to Turkish-Iranian gold trader Reza Zarrab, who is testifying for the prosecution in New York federal court, CNN Turk reported.
“On Tuesday a big bombshell will explode. Our chairman will speak in front of 25,000 people about from who and in return for what Zarrab got these documents,” said Özel.
Özel has also submitted documents on Monday to a prosecutor’s office that allegedly reveal President Erdoğan’s close circle sent about $15 million to an offshore company called Bellway Limited on the Isle of Man, the Diken news website reported.
Speaking to the media, Özel said the Ankara Public Prosecutor’s Office has already launched an investigation into the money transferred by the close circle of President Erdoğan.
CHP Chairman Kılıçdaroğlu said during a party meeting in Parliament on Nov. 28 that Erdoğan’s brother-in-law, brother, son, son’s father-in-law and his former executive assistant sent about $15 million to an offshore company called Bellway Limited on the Isle of Man between December 2011 and January 2012.
Claiming that the documents are fake, President Erdoğan and members of his family on Friday filed a lawsuit against Kılıçdaroğlu for TL 1,5 million ($380,000) in damages for creating hatred in society against the president and his family.
On Nov. 24 Erdoğan filed another lawsuit against Kılıçdaroğlu for TL 1,5 million in non-pecuniary damages due to a speech on Nov. 21.
Kılıçdaroğlu had said in an address in İstanbul: “Dear Erdoğan, do you know that your children, your brother-in-law, the father-in-law of your [son], your brother and your former principal clerk have sent millions of dollars to a tax haven?”
In response to claims leveled by Kılıçdaroğlu, Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) İstanbul deputy Metin Külünk said Kılıçdaroğlu has become a national security issue. “Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu and the CHP have become a national security issue for Turkey. It must be evaluated at the National Security Council meeting,” Külünk tweeted.
Meanwhile, President Erdoğan accused Washington of trying to discredit Turkey for “not submitting to scenarios,” on Sunday in a reference to a New York trial of former Halkbank deputy general manager Mehmet Hakan Atilla over evading US sanctions on Iran.
“They (US) are trying to punish, judge and discredit us because we did not submit to those scenarios. The scenario and the plot are obvious and they are doing this with their co-operators in our country. They are doing it with FETÖ [a derogatory term coined by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) under the leadership of Erdoğan to refer to the Gülen movement]. You will not be able to deceive us, you should know that,” Erdoğan said at the provincial congress of his ruling AKP in the eastern province of Ağrı.
“They aggravated the PKK [outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party] for that. They put FETÖ to the front and sent Deash (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant – ISIL) to our country and even now they are using the person who is the head of the main opposition, also known as the main ‘treason party,’ for the same purpose,” he added, referring to CHP leader Kılıçdaroğlu who has recently alleged that the president and his relatives had off-shore accounts.
Speaking about the trial in New York, Erdoğan said, “They wish to obtain the results they could not in the past in our country, with the same mastermind, material and scenario thousands of miles away.”
“Our nation should know that these attacks, defamations and games are not independent from each other. All are aimed at the same thing; all aiming to make Turkey kneel down and to pit us against each other. They may try as hard as they want, they will not succeed,” he added.
Former Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu has also claimed the evidence presented in the New York court is null and void, but if there is any wrongdoing in Turkey, it must be dealt with in Ankara, by Turkish courts.
Speaking at a public meeting in İzmir, Davutoğlu was quoted by Russian Sputnik’s Turkish service as saying Turkey was never obliged by “United States’ one-sided embargo” on Iran, but has always remained in friendly relations with its neighbour.
Davutoğlu also accused Reza Zarrab for damaging Turkey’s reputation and misleading the justice, saying: “Whoever looked out for their own benefit first while Turkey was passing through turbulent times, whoever increased their wealth, took bribes or gave it should be held accountable.”
Zarrab and eight other people, including Turkey’s former economy minister and three Halkbank executives, have been charged with engaging in transactions worth hundreds of millions of dollars for Iran’s government and Iranian entities from 2010 to 2015 in a scheme to evade US sanctions.
Zarrab was the prime suspect in a major corruption investigation in Turkey that became public in December 2013 and implicated the inner circle of the ruling AKP government and then-Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Zarrab was alleged to have paid Cabinet-level officials and bank officers bribes to facilitate transactions benefiting Iran.
After Erdoğan cast the case as a coup attempt to overthrow his government orchestrated by his political enemies, several prosecutors were removed from the case, police were reassigned and the investigation against Zarrab was dropped in Turkey.
While the pro-Erdoğan media were declaring Zarrab a “national hero” for his “great contribution” to the Turkish economy with exports to Iran, the Iranian-born Turkish businessman was given Turkey’s top exporter award on June 21, 2015 by Economy Minister Nihat Zeybekci and Deputy Prime Minister and AKP Deputy Chairman Numan Kurtulmuş.
When Zarrab was detained in the US in March 2016, President Erdoğan tired to rescue him from prison, US media reported.
Erdoğan demanded the release of Zarrab as well as the firing of then-US Attorney Bharara during a private meeting with then-US Vice President Joe Biden on Sept. 21, 2016, devoting half the 90-minute conversation to Zarrab, David Ignatius wrote for The Washington Post on Oct. 12.
“Erdogan’s campaign to free Zarrab has been extraordinary. He demanded his release as well as the firing of Bharara in a private meeting with then-Vice President Joe Biden on Sept. 21, 2016, in which U.S. officials say half the 90-minute conversation was devoted to Zarrab,” Ignatius wrote.
“Erdogan’s wife [Emine Erdoğan] pleaded the case that night to Jill Biden [wife of Biden]. Turkey’s then-justice minister, Bekir Bozdag, visited then-Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch in October to argue that the case was ‘based on no evidence’ and that Zarrab should be released.”
Reports in October that Zarrab could have pled guilty rang alarm bells in Ankara. The Turkish government issued two diplomatic notes urging the US to notify Turkish authorities before relocating Zarrab to another facility.
President Erdoğan on Oct. 24 strongly criticized the US administration for allegedly trying to force Zarrab to give them names from the Turkish government, saying he would explain all the details.
Zarrab, who Erdoğan called a “philanthropist businessman” following a graft investigation in December 2013 and a citizen of Turkey who must be rescued from US prison, has been the focus of criticism by Erdoğan’s deputies and media after his revelations in the New York court.
The property of Zarrab and his family members was seized on Thursday as part of an investigation into espionage and providing confidential official information to a foreign government, launched by the Istanbul Public Prosecutor’s Office. According to a media report, the decision was taken as a measure to prevent Zarrab from smuggling his property outside Turkey.
Zarrab testified in federal court on Wednesday that he had bribed Turkey’s former economy minister, Mehmet Zafer Çağlayan, in a billion-dollar scheme to smuggle gold for oil in violation of US sanctions on Iran.
On Thursday Zarrab said that Turkey’s then-prime minister and current president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, personally authorized the involvement of Turkish banks in a scheme to evade US sanctions on Iran.
Zarrab also said for the first time on Thursday that Turkey’s Ziraat Bank and VakıfBank were involved in the scheme and that former Deputy Prime Minister Ali Babacan signed off with Erdoğan on the operation.