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Ex-footballer says Erdoğan demanded his extradition in return for pastor Brunson’s release

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Former Turkish footballer Hakan Şükür, sought by Turkey over his alleged links to the faith-based Gülen movement, has confirmed claims that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had demanded his extradition from the US in exchange for the release of American pastor Andrew Brunson, according to a report by the TR724 news website.

Brunson, who was detained by Turkey in October 2016 and accused of spying and links to terrorist groups, was first moved from prison to house arrest in July 2018 and later released in October 2018, amid increasing pressure by then-US president Donald Trump as well as then-vice president Mike Pence threatening Turkey with sanctions.

Brunson told İsmail Saymaz of the Halk TV news website in an exclusive interview in February that Erdoğan had repeatedly demanded the extradition of cleric Fethullah Gülen, whom he accused of masterminding a coup attempt in July 2016, as a condition for his release.

Gülen, a cleric resident in the US whose views have inspired the Gülen movement, denied having any role in the abortive putsch and called for an international investigation into it.

Then-president Trump said there was “no deal” behind Brunson’s release but repeatedly thanked Erdoğan.

Footballer Şükür, also a former deputy from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) who has been living in self-exile in the US because of his affiliation with the Gülen movement, was a guest on a program of exiled journalist Erkam Tufan Aytav on his YouTube channel earlier this week.

When asked about the claim that Erdoğan had sought his extradition from the US after Washington rejected his previous demand that they extradite Gülen in 2017, Şükür confirmed it.

“I was a deputy in the party that wanted [to extradite] me. They had to accuse me of a crime so that my statement would be taken here and as a result, extradition would take place in accordance with the law. [But], yes, such an event took place,” Şükür said.

“Dictatorial regimes … sometimes use football and its top figures for their own benefit. When you put the state in the hands of a single man, he may want to use you for his populist policies,” Şükür added.

Şükür, who played for the Turkish national team between 1992 and 2007, is referred to as the “king” for netting 51 goals in his 112 appearances playing for Turkey, making him the nation’s all-time top goal scorer.

The Turkish government accuses the Gülen movement of masterminding a failed coup on July 15, 2016 and labels it a “terrorist organization,” although the movement strongly denies involvement in the coup attempt or any terrorist activity.

As part of a large-scale crackdown on the movement’s members, an arrest warrant was issued for Şükür, who moved to the US in 2015, and the government confiscated all his homes, businesses and bank accounts in Turkey.

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