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US attorney links Turks’ hero’s welcome to lack of anti-corruption fight, press freedom in Turkey

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A US attorney who has gained wide Turkish attention online after filing a case against Reza Zarrab –an Iranian businessman at the center of a corruption and bribery scandal that went public on Dec. 17 2013 in Turkey—has linked the attention to lack of anti-corruption fight and press freedoms in the country. 

Preet Bharara, US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, commented on how he unexpectedly became so popular among Turks after he indicted Zarrab of money laundering, bank fraud and conspiring for years “to violate and evade United States sanctions against Iran and Iranian entities,” during a keynote speech at the New York Press Association Spring Convention on Friday.

Zaman Amerika news website posted a video featuring excerpts from Bharara’s speech in which the attorney recalled that on the day Zarrab was arrested in Flordia, he had some 8,000 followers on Twitter which skyrocketed to some 290,000 within days, with all newcomers being Turkish nationals.

“On the date we engaged in the arrest, on the day that Mr. Zarrab was arrested in Florida, I had 8,100 Twitter followers. Within 4 days, I had gained 270,000 Twitter followers, virtually all of them from the nation of Turkey. And part of the reason for that was, as has been widely reported, there’s a feeling that corruption is not being dealt with in that country. I’m not going to make any comment on that, but that’s a feeling of what was going. And the other reason that it’s been widely reported is that people have not believed that there was a free press there and so there’s a lot more of people taking to the freedom of social media,” the attorney said.

The US attorney then shared press freedom reports by well-respected international organizations on Turkey, which reflect the deteriorating situation of the press in Turkey.
Bharara also commented on reports targeting him that appeared in pro-government Turkish media outlets.

“I apparently– and it’s hard because I don’t understand Turkish very well yet– I’ve been featured in the cover of newspapers in Turkey with the suggestion that the reason I have brought the case– Preet Bharara from Punjab-India, grew up in New Jersey, US Attorney in Manhattan– ..because I have been bribed by pro-Turkish-government figures who hoped to overthrow the government in Turkey, to the tune of $2.5 million. So there have been a lot of silly things written about me in my time as US Attorney. I can confirm for all of you that, that’s the silliest,” he said.

Several pro-government newspapers in Turkey recently ran stories in which they accused the US attorney as being part of a “parallel structure,” a derogatory term used for the faith-based Gülen movement, after the prosecutor came to public attention last month for bringing charges against Zarrab.

The parallel structure or parallel state is a term invented to refer to the Gülen movement by then Prime Minister and current President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan following the becoming public of a corruption investigation in late 2013 in which Erdoğan’s inner circle was implicated. Businessman Zarrab who was arrested in US last week was the prime suspect in the corruption investigation.

Erdoğan labeled the corruption charges as a coup attempt to overthrow his government and accused the Gülen movement, inspired by Turkish-Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen, of having masterminded the probe, a claim strongly denied by the movement.
Since then, an all-out war has been launched against the individuals and organizations that are thought to be linked to the movement with many businesses being taken over by the government and individuals being sent to jail.

Zarrab’s arrest came at a time when Turks almost lost hope of justice being served in 2013’s corruption probe because the charges against the suspected were immediately dropped with the appointment of new prosecutors to the investigation. In addition, the police officers and some prosecutors and judges who took part in the probe were sent to jail over coup charges.

Commenting on thousands of comments and expressions of love he received on Twitter from Turkish users, Brahara said he has been offered all matter of delicious Turkish food, including shish kabobs and Turkish delight.

“And there have been a lot of expressions of love towards me and my office. And I guess what I would say is, I’m not sure that a stranger is worthy of another stranger’s love, but I do hope that what our office stands for and what our principles are, are worthy of,”

The attorney stressed that his office believes in rule of law and that no one is above the law.

“We don’t care how much money you have, we don’t care how powerful you are. We don’t care how strong you are, we don’t care what your connections are. If you’ve broken the law, and it’s to the interest of justice to pursue an investigation and prosecution and we can prove it, then we’re going to do that,” he said.

“And the only thing I can offer to anybody, whether you’re in Turkey or America or Albany or Schenectady or New York City or anywhere, is that we do our jobs without being intimidated by anyone or scared of anyone, only according to the law and facts because that’s what our oaths require.”

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