US defines Turkish gov’t accusations of plot in Zarrab case ‘ridiculous’

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (L) and Turkish-Iranian businessman Reza Zarrab.

The United States has called the Turkish government’s accusations of a plot in the case of Turkish-Iranian businessman Reza Zarrab “ridiculous,” referring to an earlier response by Washington on the alleged involvement with last year’s failed coup.

“We have heard that story, that old same song and dance from Turkey before, and I would have to give you the same answer as last time they accused us of trying to foment some sort of a coup. And I would say that is ridiculous. We are not engaged in that. Anything related to that particular case, I’d just have to refer you to the Department of Justice,” State Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert said during a daily press briefing on Tuesday.

When asked whether the latest remarks by Ankara would lead Washington to review its stance on Turkey’s alliance within NATO, Nauert likened it to a “marriage,” stating that relations with some countries “can ebb and flow sometimes.”

Turkey’s autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Tuesday had repeated his claims that the US case against Zarrab is evidence that the FETÖ’s ‘Dec. 17-25 attacks’ against Turkish government have now extended to the US. ‘FETÖ’ is a derogatory term coined by corrupt Erdoğan and his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) to refer to the Gülen movement

“Between Dec. 17 to 25 [2013], the biggest plot targeting our country was staged under the name of the law. When this plot was unsuccessful thanks to our firm stance and our nation’s foresight, they took this plot and staged it in the US,” Erdoğan said, addressing the Justice and Development Party (AKP) in parliament.

US District Judge Richard M. Berman commented shortly before acting US Attorney Joon H. Kim said at a news conference that claims the prosecution is driven by Turkish politics “are ridiculous on their face.” “Frankly, it displays a fundamental misunderstanding of how our justice system works,” he said. “The best way for them to be helpful is to help defense counsel by providing in court any evidence or witnesses they are aware of that could assist the defense,” Berman said.

Meanwhile pro-government Akşam daily said on Wednesday that it was “opening the file on Joon H. Kim, the prosecutor of the (Reza) Zarrab case, which has turned into a conspiracy against Turkey in collaboration with FETÖ.”

Akşam daily accused Kim’s law firm of bribing an important witness to change his testimony in a 2007 case, of “selling out” a client – the Argentinian government – by falsely claiming it would not abide by any decisions made in US law courts, and of defrauding a Canadian company of $1,5 million dollars in expenses.

Moreover, according to a report by Daily Beast, Judge Berman said “I am aware that there is a lot of press coverage of this case and a lot comment on the media,” and added on Tuesday that “I certainly believe, as I am sure you do, in free speech.” Instead of playing “armchair quarterback” through the media, Berman suggested that Turkish authorities concerned about the case against Atilla cooperate with his defense team and make witnesses available for questioning.

“If more evidence emerges during the trial of an Iranian-Turkish gold dealer accused of undermining sanctions against Iran, it could breathe new life into suppressed allegations of Turkish government corruption,” wrote Amanda Sloat, the former US State Department Deputy Assistant Secretary for Southern Europe and Eastern Mediterranean Affairs. “Erdoğan made charges disappear in Turkey, but he cannot do so in the United States,” she said.

“A trial would shine a bright light on alleged corruption in the Turkish government and could undermine Erdoğan’s narrative about rule of law in Turkey,” added Sloat, who for years directly handled the Turkey affairs in different capacities in a senior position at the State Department. She also said prosecutors claimed to have evidence of personal connections between the Erdoğan family and Zarrab, including “taped conversations of Zarrab seeking Erdoğan’s support for his scheme and evidence of donations by Zarrab to charitable foundations associated with Erdoğan family members.”

A further danger, Sloat said, would come if Zarrab provided damaging information about the Turkish banks he had used in his scheme. “Such revelations would undermine the international reputation of the Turkish banking system,” she said.

Henri Barkey, former US State Department official and Leigh University professor, has also stated that Zarrab’s testimony could name many high-level Turkish officials, Quoted by Foreign Policy, Barkey has said that if Zarrab talks, he’s going to implicate a lot of people in the Turkish government — maybe Erdoğan and his family, maybe his son.

However, Turkey’s former Economy Minister Zafer Çağlayan, who was implicated in Dec. 17-25, 2013 corruption scandal and named as a defendant in the US indictment on evading sanctions against Iran, said he does not recognise the legitimacy of the US court according to columnist Orhan Uğuroğlu of Yeniçağ daily. “This is a political trial, I am not a US citizen, and I do not recognise the legitimacy of that court,” Çağlayan was quoted as saying, the arrest order is a “worthless piece of paper.”

Zarrab was arrested in the US last year on charges that he conspired to conduct hundreds of millions of dollars in financial transactions for the Iranian government and other entities to evade US sanctions. He is widely known in Turkey as his name appeared in the December 2013 corruption probes embroiling four former ministers and other state officials.

Ankara says the case is based on fabricated documents. Turkish authorities opened an investigation into the US prosecutors who brought charges against Zarrab. Under a previous Turkish investigation that became public in 2013, Turkish prosecutors accused Zarrab and high-ranking Turkish officials of involvement in facilitating Iranian money transfers via gold smuggling, leaked documents at the time showed.

President Erdoğan, then prime minister, cast that investigation as a coup attempt orchestrated by his political enemies. Several Turkish prosecutors were removed from the case, police investigators were reassigned, and the investigation was later dropped. Erdoğan has said US prosecutors have shown “ulterior motives” by including references to him and his wife in court papers relating to the trial in New York.

This first trial on the case of Reza Zarrab and other defendants are expected to be held on 4 December.

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