The Erdoğan family came to public attention over their relations with ethnic Azeri Iranian businessman Reza Zarrab in a corruption investigation in 2013.
Zarrab was the prime suspect in a major corruption probe that went 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.
In a statement in April, Erdoğan said Zarrab’s case would be one of the issues he would discuss with US President Donald Trump when they met in May.
“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,“ Erdoğan had said back then.
However, shortly after Zarrab’s arrest, Erdoğan said the arrest of the businessman in the US was “none of Turkey’s business.”
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.
Şebnem Erişmek, one of Zarrab’s lawyers, was seen in front of the residence of the Turkish ambassador in Washington on May 17 while President Erdoğan was paying a visit to the residence, according to Turkish media reports.