President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Tuesday strongly criticized the US administration for allegedly trying to force jailed Turkish-Iranian businessman Reza Zarrab to give them names from the Turkish government, saying he would explain all the details, the state-run Anadolu news agency reported.
Zarrab was arrested in Miami in March 2016 as part of an investigation into the violation of US sanctions on Iran.
Turkey’s Halkbank Deputy General Manager Mehmet Hakan Atilla was also arrested in the US as part of the same investigation in March 2017.
Calling the arrest of Zarrab and Atilla an operation deliberately targeting Turkey in his speech at his party group in Parliament, Erdoğan said: “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’.”
“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, a Turkish-Iranian gold dealer who is about to go on trial on money-laundering and fraud charges in the US, as well as the firing of then-US Attorney Preet 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,” wrote Ignatius.
“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, noted Ignatius.
The US District Court for the Southern District of New York on Sept. 6 indicted former Turkish Economy Minister Mehmet Zafer Çağlayan, former Halkbank General Manager Süleyman Aslan, Levent Bakkal and Abdullah Happani and ordered an arrest warrant for them.
The four are charged with conspiring to use the US financial system to conduct hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of transactions on behalf of the government of Iran and other Iranian entities barred by US sanctions.
Erdoğan stated in September that he had told Washington that Turkey had never agreed to comply with its sanctions on Iran and called on the US to review the indictment. He also said US President Donald Trump had called him and agreed to follow the case more closely.
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 Justice and Development Party (AKP) government and then-Prime Minister 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 against Zarrab was dropped.