ISTANBUL (AP) - Turkey’s top diplomat says followers of a U.S.-based Muslim cleric blamed for last year’s failed coup have infiltrated the “American system” of justice and are behind accusations leveled against a Turkish-Iranian businessman in the U.S.
Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu also told journalists Friday that cleric Fethullah Gulen “has entered American missions here through their local staff.” He was referring to the arrest of a local employee of the U.S. Istanbul consulate in October for alleged links to Gulen.
The cleric has denied involvement in the coup attempt. The U.S. says its employee had contacts with police and a prosecutor as part of his job, not for other reasons.
Cavusoglu claims that Gulen’s followers wielded influence over the U.S. judicial system, pointing to the case of Turkish-Iranian businessman Reza Zarrab, charged by an ex-U.S. attorney for evading U.S. sanctions on Iran. The gold trader was arrested in March 2016 during a trip to the United States.
Cavusoglu claimed that former U.S. attorney Preet Bharara used the same indictment that alleged Gulen-linked Turkish prosecutors had filed against Zarrab in Turkey amid a sweeping corruption scandal involving leaked wiretaps and documents that shook the country in 2013.
“It seems very politically motivated,” Cavusoglu said.
Also indicted in the case is Mehmet Hakan Atilla, an executive of the state-owned Halkbank, currently under arrest in the U.S. and set to appear in court on Nov. 27 for violating sanctions on Iran through financial transactions amounting to hundreds of millions of dollars.
The foreign minister insisted the bank did not violate any sanctions.
Turkey’s former economy minister Zafer Caglayan is among the nine defendants implicated in the case.
Zarrab and his lawyer have skipped several court appearances recently, leading to speculation that he may be cutting a deal with U.S. officials to avoid prosecution.
Turkey is seeking Gulen’s extradition from the U.S. to try him for his alleged role in the failed coup and has been infuriated that its demand has not yet been met. Gulen has been living in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania for nearly two decades.
Turkey has arrested over 50,000 people and fired more than 100,000 from state jobs for alleged links to the cleric since the July 2016 coup attempt.
“(Gulen’s network) couldn’t succeed in the coup and they are trying in the U.S. and they are getting support from some U.S. institutions,” Cavusoglu said.
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