Erdoğan says Zarrab is his citizen, Turkey has to stand behind him

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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan delivers a speech during the 9th Ambassadors Conference at the Presidental Complex in Ankara, on January 9, 2017. / AFP PHOTO

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has said a Turkish-Iranian businessman, Reza Zarrab, who was arrested in the US in 2016 for violating sanctions against Iran, is a Turkish citizen and that Turkey has to act to defend him.

Zarrab was the prime suspect in a major corruption investigation that became public in December 2013 in which then-Prime Minister Erdoğan’s inner circle was implicated. Zarrab was arrested by US authorities in Miami in March 2016 on charges of helping Iran process millions of dollars of transactions when it was under US sanctions for its nuclear program.

Speaking to Reuters news agency at his presidential palace in Ankara on Tuesday, Erdoğan said: “Zarrab is not the son of my father but he is a citizen of mine. If he has committed a crime, his dossier should be forwarded to the Justice Ministry. If he is arrested on trumped-up charges, we will fall into the category of a country that does not stand behind its citizens.”

The Turkish president said Zarrab’s case will be one of the issues he will discuss with US President Donald Trump when they meet in May.

However, shortly after Zarrab’s arrest, Erdoğan said the arrest of the businessman in the US is “none of Turkey’s business.”

“Dear friends, this is not an issue that concerns our country, but might be a court case for the laundering of illicit money, I do not know. I cannot make a statement without knowing the reason [for Zarrab’s arrest],” Erdoğan said back then.

What disturbed Erdoğan and other Turkish officials is that former US Attorney for the Southern District of New York Preet Bharara’s office cited the 2013 corruption investigation into Erdoğan and other Cabinet members in the Zarrab indictment in New York.

When the graft probe was launched, Erdoğan’s government retaliated by purging the police chiefs and prosecutors who initiated the corruption investigation and introduced new legislation that restructured the judicial system to establish more political control over it.

With all prosecutors either reassigned to other posts or dismissed, and some even later arrested, the probe was dropped and Zarrab was acquitted of charges thanks to government intervention in the legal proceedings.

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