Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) Chairman Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu accused the Turkish government on Tuesday of pursuing a “hostage policy” against Washington in retaliation for ongoing legal proceedings against Turkish-Iranian businessman Reza Zarrab in the US.
Speaking during the CHP parliamentary group meeting on Tuesday, Kılıçdaroğlu said the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) government wants to use the detention and arrest of US Consulate staff and American citizens against the US government in retaliation for the investigation into Zarrab, in which Deputy Manager of state-run Halkbank Mehmet Hakan Atilla was arrested and former minister Zafer Çağlayan and former Halkbank manager Süleyman Aslan are being sought on charges of violating US sanctions against Iran and conspiring to use the US financial system to conduct hundreds of millions of dollars for Iran and Iranian entities.
“There is a case in the US on Zarrab; the deputy manager of Halkbank [Atilla] is in prison and [former Economy Minister] Zafer Çağlayan is also [in the case file]. Now, they are trying to solve the problem with a hostage policy. The hostage policy will only deepen the problem rather than solve it,” he said.
Accusing the AKP of pursuing a foreign policy that lacks reason, calm and dialogue, Kılıçdaroğlu urged both governments to act with common sense.
His remarks came after Ankara and Washington imposed visa restrictions on each other’s citizens in an escalating diplomatic spat after a US Consulate official was jailed in Turkey and another was summoned for questioning as a suspect in an investigation into the Gülen movement, which the Turkish government accuses of being behind a failed coup last year. The movement strongly denies any involvement.
The CHP leader also said that the measure taken by the US is wrong as it will also affect thousands of Turkish students aiming to go to the US to study in universities there.
“The measure the US has adopted is wrong. We do not support it. There are thousands of students aiming to go to the US, there are patients going for medical treatment and businesspeople going to pursue their interests. All of them have been blocked. Those punished are not the government, it is the 80 million people [of Turkey],” he said.
On Sept. 6, the US District Court for the Southern District of New York indicted Çağlayan, Aslan, Levent Bakkal and Abdullah Happani and warrants were issued for their arrest.
US authorities arrested Zarrab in Miami in March on charges of helping Iran process millions of dollars of transactions when it faced US sanctions for its nuclear program.
Atilla was also arrested in New York City in late March on similar charges to those of Zarrab.
Zarrab was the prime suspect in a graft probe in 2013, along with others from the inner circle of the ruling AKP government and the then-Prime Minister and present-President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, for having paid bribes to Cabinet-level officials, including Çağlayan and Halkbank General Manager Aslan, 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 against Zarrab was dropped.