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Deputy PM Bozdağ says Zarrab case baseless, political

Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdağ on Sunday said the case against Reza Zarrab, a Turkish-Iranian gold trader who has been charged in Manhattan with conspiring to violate US sanctions on Iran, is political and lacks a basis in law.

“I am clearly saying here that this case is political and lacking a legal basis and evidence,” Bozdağ said in a speech in Adıyaman province, adding that the case is “a continuation of the coup attempt by the Gülen movement on Dec. 17-25, 2013, this time in the US.”

Calling on American authorities to respond, Bozdağ said: “When, where and from whom did you get the so-called evidence in the case dossier?”

“Are there originals of this fabricated evidence in the hands of the FBI agent, or did he fabricate it, or maybe somebody gave it to him?” Bozdağ added, calling on US authorities to explain the report about the evidence.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu on Friday said evidence in the case of Reza Zarrab was fabricated, claiming that it shows the extent to which Gülen movement followers have infiltrated US institutions.

“When you look at the indictment of Mr. Zarrab, it is exactly the same one that FETÖ [a derogatory term coined by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) to refer to the Gülen movement] prepared here in Turkey in 2013,” Çavuşoğlu told foreign reporters in İstanbul.

Claiming that the Zarrab case was motivated by the Gülen movement, Çavuşoğlu said: “This is for sure. All those indictments and files they fabricated here were taken to the United States.”

Zarrab was the prime suspect in a major corruption investigation in Turkey that became public in December 2013 in which with others from the inner circle of the ruling AKP government and then-Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan for having 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 into Zarrab was dropped.

On Saturday the İstanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office launched a criminal investigation into Joon Hyun Kim, acting US attorney for the Southern District of New York, and Preet Bharara, the former US attorney who was in charge of Zarrab’s case, and other attorneys over evidence used in a trial of Turkish citizens.

Zarrab and Turkey’s Halkbank Deputy General Manager Mehmet Hakan Atilla were arrested in the US for conspiring to violate US sanctions on Iran. The US District Court for the Southern District of New York on Sept. 6 also indicted former Turkish Economy Minister Mehmet Zafer Çağlayan, former Halkbank General Manager Süleyman Aslan, Levent Bakkal and Abdullah Happani and ordered arrest warrants for them.

News published in the US media that Zarrab, arrested in Miami in March 2016, could have pled guilty, rang alarm bells in Ankara.

The Turkish government issued a diplomatic note last week urging the US to notify Turkish authorities before relocating Zarrab to another facility.

According to the state-run Anadolu news agency, Foreign Minister Çavuşoğlu said Turkey sent two notices to US authorities after Zarrab’s lawyers were unable to reach him.

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.

“They are driving him [Zarrab] into a corner, trying to make him an informer by saying, ‘If you mention those names, it [your prison term] will be this long, if you mention those names it will be that long’,” Erdoğan said, adding: “We are following this. We know how to set the world on fire when all those issues are done. We will tell all.”

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.”

According to former aides, “Erdoğan appealed personally about the matter in his last two phone calls with President Barack Obama, in December and early January.

“Our operating assumption was that Erdoğan’s obsession with the case was that if it moved forward, information would come out that would damage his family, and ultimately him,” said one former senior Obama official, Ignatius noted.

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