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Erdoğan’s former speechwriter threatens Gülen movement over Zarrab case

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Former speechwriter of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and current ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) deputy Aydın Ünal on Monday threatened Gülen movement people in Turkey, saying tougher days lie ahead as a result of a case against Reza Zarrab, a Turkish-Iranian gold trader who was arrested in Miami in March 2016 on charges of evading US sanctions on Iran.

Accusing Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen of pushing the Zarrab case in the US, Ünal in his column published in the Yeni Şafak daily said: “In fact there are more than 250,000 FETÖ [a derogatory term coined by ruling AKP to refer to Gülen movement] members who are ‘not intelligent,’ do not flee, could not flee. There are in all about 1 million in Turkey. The Zarrab case will naturally make the conditions of FETÖ members more difficult.”

“If the Zarrab case is used as a political attack against Turkey, the peace of FETÖ members in Turkey and all over the world will be more difficult than it is today,” added Ünal.

Amid an ongoing witch-hunt targeting the faith-based Gülen movement, Turkish Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu on Nov. 16 said 48,739 people had been jailed and eight holdings and 1,020 companies seized as part of operations against the movement.

Turkey’s Justice Ministry announced on July 13 that 169,013 have been the subject of legal proceedings on coup charges since the failed coup. Turkey has suspended or dismissed more than 150,000 judges, teachers, police and civil servants since July 15 through government decrees issued as part of the state of emergency.

The AKP’s Ünal claimed that the Zarrab case would be positive for President Erdoğan in the 2019 elections, would not lead to grave economic consequences and that the West and NATO would lose Turkey. Ünal also underlined that the current media structure would not allow the US to wield influence over people as it did during the Dec. 17/25, 2013 corruption operations.

Zarrab, a Turkish-Iranian gold trader, was arrested in Miami in March 2016 on charges of evading US sanctions on Iran. Zarrab, 34, stopped appearing in court in the two months leading up to his scheduled trial, prompting Turkey’s prime minister to suggest he had reached a plea deal with US authorities.

According to Reuters, Judge Richard M. Berman, the senior federal judge of the court, told potential jurors on Monday morning that Mehmet Hakan Atilla (47), an executive of Turkish state-owned Halkbank, would be the only person on trial.

Zarrab and eight other people, including Turkey’s former economy minister and three Halkbank executives, have been charged with engaging in transactions worth hundreds of millions of dollars for Iran’s government and Iranian entities from 2010 to 2015 in a scheme to evade US sanctions.

Zarrab was the prime suspect in a major corruption investigation in Turkey that became public in December 2013 and implicated the inner circle of the ruling AKP government and then-Prime Minister Erdoğan. Zarrab was alleged to have 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 in Turkey.

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