- Cavusoglu says Bharara is close to Gulen
- Claims Zarrab case motivated by Gulenists
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu has claimed that former Manhattan attorney Preet Bharara is close to a U.S.-based Turkish cleric wanted by Ankara, and dismissed an investigation he started as concocted by followers of the cleric’s network.
Mr. Cavusoglu told a group of foreign journalists in Istanbul on Friday that he recently told his U.S. counterpart, Rex Tillerson, “very openly” that the Gulenist network had infiltrated American missions in Turkey through the local staff and that a case targeting the Turkish state bank and Iranian gold trader Reza Zarrab is ‘politically motivated’ by them. The minister was referring to Metin Topuz, a U.S. consulate employee arrested by the Turkish government last month.
The investigation supervised by Mr. Bharara, who was the Attorney for the Southern District of New York until President Donald J. Trump fired him this year, charged at least nine individuals, including Turkey’s ex-minister Zafer Caglayan. Two suspects, Mr. Zarrab and Hakan Atilla, a former official from Turkish state-run bank Halkbank, are in federal custody.
The suspects are accused of bypassing U.S.-led sanctions against Iran between 2010 and 2015. Halkbank is allegedly used as an intermediary to handle hundreds of millions of dollars for the Iranian government.
Mr. Cavusoglu’s accusation that the former attorney is “very close” to Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish cleric living in Pennsylvania, coincided with a media campaign in Turkey, with pro-government newspapers blaring on their front pages on Friday about the alleged links between Mr. Bharara and Mr. Gulen.
“Turkey FM is a liar. Now let’s see what happens in court,” Mr. Bharara tweeted as a response to the foreign minister’s claim. Both Mr. Zarrab and Mr. Atilla are scheduled to appear before a judge on Nov. 27.
In his briefing with reporters, Mr. Cavusoglu said it is “for sure” that the case targeting Mr. Zarrab is a “FETO-motivated one,” using the government’s term for the Gulen movement. “All those indictments and files they fabricated here were taken back to the United States. When you look at the indictment of Mr. Zarrab it is exactly the same one that FETO actually prepared here in Turkey in 2013.”
The foreign minister was referring to twin corruption investigations in 2013 that targeted Mr. Zarrab, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and his inner circle. Mr. Zarrab was blamed for doling out generous bribes to Mr. Erdogan’s ministers in exchange for freely navigating in Turkey’s financial system to bypass U.S. sanctions against Iran. Most of the prosecutors who started the investigations in Turkey, police officials who carried out the raids, their wives and some of their children were arrested.
The Turkish government is paying a particular attention to the case of Mr. Zarrab, bringing up the case during bilateral talks and often making searing public statements against the U.S. Ankara even issued two diplomatic notes this week to learn about the fate the gold trader. His whereabouts at the moment is shrouded in mystery. Mr. Cavusoglu acknowledged that he doesn’t know where he is locked up.