A Turkish employee of the US Consulate General in İstanbul appeared in court on Tuesday charged with espionage and attempting to overthrow the Turkish government in a case that has further frayed ties between the two NATO allies, The Associated Press reported.
The trial against Metin Topuz, a translator and fixer for the Drug Enforcement Agency at the consulate, opened in İstanbul nearly a year and a half after his arrest in October 2017. He has been held in pre-trial detention since then.
Topuz is accused of links to US-based Turkish cleric Fethullah Gülen, who the Turkish government blames for a 2016 coup attempt, and faces a life sentence if convicted.
Topuz, 59, denies the allegations.
“I would never have thought I’d be blamed for my translation work,” Topuz said, fighting back tears.
Topuz’s arrest led to the suspension of bilateral visa services between the US and Turkey for more than two months in 2017 and is one of several contentious issues that have increased tensions between Ankara and Washington.
In the 78-page indictment, Topuz is accused of links to officers who led a 2013 corruption investigation that implicated top Turkish officials.
“During my 25 years of work with the DEA, I have met many police officers and public officials, exchanging numbers and business cards,” Topuz said in his trial testimony.
He explained that his work for the DEA involved contacts with Turkish security forces, especially narcotics officers, in drug-related investigations and informational exchanges on combatting drug use. Topuz said he was also involved in security preparations during visits by US presidents.
Topuz argued that the prosecutor only took into account contacts he had with officers allegedly linked to Gülen and ignored conversations he had with hundreds of other officers.
Topuz said he communicated with public employees of the Turkish state and cannot be expected to know or identify officers with alleged links to Gülen.
Mete Cantürk, another Turkish employee of the consulate, is under house arrest in a related investigation. A Turkish translator of the US mission in southern Adana province was convicted of terror-related charges earlier this year but released from prison.
US diplomats, including Chargé d’Affaires Jeffrey Hovenier and Istanbul Consul General Jennifer Davis, are attending the three-day hearing, which is expected to continue until Thursday.