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US: Turkey being ‘ridiculous’ in accusations of conspiracy in Zarrab case

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Turkey is being “ridiculous” in its accusations that the US is trying to foment “some sort of a coup” with regard to the upcoming trial in federal court of a Turkish-Iranian gold trader, State Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert said at a press briefing on Tuesday.

“We’ve heard that story, that old same song and dance from Turkey before, and I would have to give you the same answer as last time they accused us of trying to foment some sort of a coup. And I would say that is ridiculous. We are not engaged in that. Anything related to that particular case, I’d just have to refer you to the Department of Justice,” Nauert said in response to a question of whether the case against Reza Zarrab is a plot cooked up by the US against Turkey.

Zarrab, together with alleged co-conspirators, has been charged with handling hundreds of millions of dollars for Iran’s government and Iranian entities from 2010 to 2015, in a scheme to avoid US sanctions on Iran. He has pleaded not guilty and is due to go on trial in New York on Nov. 27.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Tuesday said the case against Zarrab was a conspiracy against Turkey.

“One of the biggest traps of history was organized under the mask of law Dec. 17-25 [2013]. They took the conspiracy and put it into practice in the US after they failed due to the tough stance and foresight of our nation,” Erdoğan said in a speech at his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) group meeting in Parliament.

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 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 into Zarrab was dropped.

When asked by a reporter at what point does the war of words between Turkey and the US lead to a reassessment of the relationship and alliance, Nauert said relations with some countries can “ebb and flow,” as in a marriage.

“And so somebody may say something that later they regret saying. They are a NATO member. They are a valued ally of the United States. We have had a strong relationship with Turkey. But really, just making comments about the United States trying to foment a coup is just – is simply ridiculous. And I think they recognize – I think they recognize that as well.”

Ankara says the case is based on fabricated documents. Turkish authorities opened an investigation into the US prosecutors who brought charges against Zarrab, state media said on Saturday, citing the allegations that it was based on fabricated documents.

Judge Richard M. Berman, the senior federal judge of the US District Court for the Southern District of New York who is hearing the case of two Turkish businessmen including Turkish-Iranian gold trader Zarrab, charged with evading economic sanctions against Iran, said on Tuesday that the Turkish government could provide evidence to help defendants instead of lobbing criticisms.

Berman’s remarks came a day after Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdağ said Zarrab was a “hostage” in the hands of US authorities being forced to testify against Turkey’s government.

“The best way for them to be helpful is to help defense counsel by providing in court any evidence or witnesses they are aware of that could assist the defense,” Berman said.

Earlier on Tuesday, Joon H. Kim, the acting US attorney for the Southern District of New York, said at a news conference that claims the prosecution is driven by Turkish politics “are ridiculous on their face.”

“Frankly, it displays a fundamental misunderstanding of how our justice system works,” he said. “The defendants are charged with serious crimes. … That’s why the case is being brought and that’s the only reason. Beyond that, I’ll let the evidence speak for itself.”

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