US Consulate hands staff member over to Turkish authorities

The US Consulate General in İstanbul on Jan. 31 handed over to Turkish authorities a staff member who was being sought for alleged links to the faith-based Gülen movement, Cumhuriyet daily reported on Saturday.

According to the report Nazmi Mete Cantürk, who is believed to have been hiding in the consulate building since a detention warrant was issued for him in October, was handed over to Turkish authorities on Jan. 31 and placed under house arrest to be monitored by an electronic bracelet after his interrogation by the İstanbul Chief Prosecutor’s Office.

Cantürk’s wife S.C., daughter K.İ.C. and son K.İ.C. were temporarily detained Oct. 9-10.

Cantürk, who works in the consulate’s diplomatic security department, was questioned over his relationship with former police chiefs allegedly linked to the Gülen movement and his bank account at Bank Asya, which was seized by the government in 2015 and transferred to Turkey’s state-run Savings Deposit Insurance Fund (TMSF).

The İstanbul Public Prosecutor’s Office launched an investigation into a Dec. 17-25, 2013 corruption probe which included the inner circle of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) government and then-Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Metin Topuz, an employee at 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, then-outgoing US Ambassador to 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.

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.”

Jailed police chiefs who led corruption operations against the government in 2013 were taken to Istanbul police headquarters on Jan. 14 due to the testimony of Topuz.

The police chiefs were questioned about their links to Topuz and the transfer of evidence for a court case in New York in which Mehmet Hakan Atilla, an executive of Turkey’s Halkbank, Turkish-Iranian gold trader Reza Zarrab and seven other people, including Turkey’s former economy minister and two additional Halkbank executives, were 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.

The police chiefs also questioned over Hüseyin Korkmaz, a former İstanbul police officer who testified at Atilla’s trial in the US.

After Erdoğan cast the case in 2013 as a coup attempt to overthrow the government orchestrated by his political enemies, several prosecutors were removed from the case, police were reassigned and the investigation in Turkey against Zarrab was dropped.

The jury in the trial of Atilla, an executive of Turkey’s Halkbank charged with participating in a scheme to evade US sanctions on Iran, in US federal court on Jan. 3 reached a verdict of guilty on five counts, including bank fraud and conspiracy, and not guilty on one count of money laundering.

Only Zarrab and Atilla are currently in US custody after separately being arrested upon trying to enter the United States in 2016 and 2017, respectively.

Zarrab made a plea deal with prosecutors and has served as the key witness in Atilla’s trial.

Zarrab testified in New York federal court in early December 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.

Zarrab said that Turkey’s then-Prime Minister Erdoğan personally authorized the involvement of Turkish banks in the scheme.

Zarrab also said he made payments to secure his release in February 2014 and that those payments were partly bribes.

The Turkish government seized the assets of Zarrab and his relatives following his testimony in the US court.

Hüseyin Korkmaz in the New York trial of Atilla called Erdoğan the “No. 1” target in a group that also included Çağlayan, and Süleyman Aslan, a former chief executive at Halkbank, a large Turkish state-owned bank that was central to the sanction-busting scheme.

Police notes of the Dec. 17 operations show that Zarrab personally talked with Erdoğan on April 13, 2013 and asked for an official police guard. Erdoğan and his Cabinet approved it immediately.

A phone call and a video in the Dec. 17 file show that Zarrab in July 2013 sent an unspecified amount of money to the Service for Youth and Education Foundation of Turkey (TÜRGEV), run by Bilal Erdoğan, Erdoğan’s son.

Turkey issued detention warrants for six of Korkmaz’s family members following his testimony.

President Erdoğan on Jan. 10 claimed that the conviction in a New York court of Turkish banker Atilla on charges of violating US sanctions on Iran is part of an attempt to stage a “new coup” in Turkey. (turkishminute.com)

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