Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Sunday called on the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) government not to allow some businessmen to transfer their assets abroad, calling it treason, the state-run Anadolu news agency reported.
“I have received some news and signals. I have heard that some businessmen have been engaged in attempts to smuggle their wealth out. I am calling on my Cabinet first, they must not ever be allowed to leave because those steps are treasonous,” Erdoğan said during a party meeting in the eastern province of Muş.
Erdoğan continued criticizing the US court where Turkish-Iranian gold trader Reza 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.
“There is no court, but only attempts at blackmail. I am sorry but we will not submit to this blackmail,” added Erdoğan.
Earlier on Sunday in Ağrı province Erdoğan also targeted the US court: “Now the US is trying to judge, punish, discredit us because we did not submit to their scenarios. Their plan, their plot is clear. They are doing it with their collaborators in our country. They are doing it with Feto [a derogatory term coined by the ruling AKP to refer to the Gülen movement].”
The property of Zarrab and his family members was seized on Thursday as part of an investigation into espionage and providing confidential official information to a foreign government, launched by the Istanbul Public Prosecutor’s Office. According to a media report, the decision was taken as a measure to prevent Zarrab from smuggling his property outside Turkey.
Zarrab testified in federal court on Wednesday that he had bribed Turkey’s former economy minister, Mehmet Zafer Çağlayan, in a billion-dollar scheme to smuggle gold for oil in violation of US sanctions on Iran.
On Thursday Zarrab said that Turkey’s then-prime minister and current president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, personally authorized the involvement of Turkish banks in a scheme to evade US sanctions on Iran.
Zarrab also said for the first time on Thursday that Turkey’s Ziraat Bank and VakıfBank were involved in the scheme and that former Deputy Prime Minister Ali Babacan signed off with Erdoğan on the operation.
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 Recep Tayyip 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.