Turkish police have broken the password of the mobile phone of arrested US İstanbul Consulate staffer Metin Topuz, who was arrested over his alleged links to the Gülen movement, finding messages about media reports on the arrest of Turkish-Iranian businessman Reza Zarrab in the US.
According to a report in Hürriyet daily, upon the instruction of the İstanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office, cyber-crimes unit revealed WhatsApp messages from Metin Topuz sent to a U.S. diplomat identified only as K. sharing reports on Zarrab, who had been arrested in the US for evading American sanctions on Iran.
Topuz reportedly created a WhatsApp group conversation on March 22, 2016 titled ‘Reza Zarrab’ at 8:51 a.m., and shared a report by daily Hürriyet on the arrest of Zarrab in Miami in his first message sent at 9:02 a.m.
At 9:25 a.m., a US diplomat stationed at the İstanbul Consulate joined the conversation. Topuz wrote that Zarrab’s arrest was a part of an Federal Bureau Of Information (FBI) investigation and that they would accordingly try to obtain information about companies in Turkey. The messages have been included to the investigation file.
The US had sent a diplomatic note to Turkey after Topuz was arrested on Oct. 4 and demanded the return of his mobile phone seized by Turkish authorities. Washington had stated that the phone belonged to the U.S. and any information on the mobile phone and its SIM card were within the impunity of the consulate archive and documents as per the 33rd article of the Vienna Convention.
Metin Topuz, an employee of the US Consulate in İstanbul, was detained on Sept. 25 and arrested on Oct. 4 on espionage charges, prompting a diplomatic crisis between Washington and Ankara. Topuz’s arrest led Washington to suspend all non-immigrant visa services at diplomatic missions in Turkey, which was immediately followed by a reciprocal move by the Turkish Embassy in Washington to suspend visa applications from the US on Oct. 8.
Turkey accuses Topuz of links to police officers who are sympathizers of the Gülen movement, which is blamed by Turkish authorities for a failed coup last year.
Speaking to a group of journalists in İstanbul on Oct. 6, outgoing US Ambassador in Turkey John Bass said some in the Turkish government were motivated by “vengeance rather than justice,” voicing concern at coverage in pro-government media outlets of the arrest of Topuz.
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had waited for three days before calling his Turkish counterpart, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, in response to a message sent by Çavuşoğlu regarding the visa crisis.
US Ambassador Bass said in a video message released late on Oct. 9 that Turkish authorities had failed to show any evidence against Topuz and that he had insufficient access to a lawyer. He also said the arrest “raised questions whether the goal of some officials is to disrupt the long-standing cooperation between Turkey and the US.”
Ties between the two NATO allies were already strained over Pennsylvania-based Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen’s presence in the US and Washington’s support for a Syrian Kurdish militia that Turkey considers to be terrorist because of its links to outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) militants fighting Turkey.
Also, indictments in the US naming bodyguards of Turkish autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan who were engaged in violence in Washington and for the manager of the state-run Halkbank and a former Turkish economy minister accused of conspiring to violate US sanctions on Iran had deepened the rift.