Turkey has detained 17 staff members and workers working for Turkish-Iranian businessman Reza Zarrab who is testifying as a witness in the Iran sanctions trial in a New York court.
Reza Zarrab is giving evidence in a New York trial over alleged subversion of U.S. economic sanctions against Iran that has implicated former Turkish ministers and even President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
President Erdogan has rubbished the accusations and on Tuesday said that the case was a “plot” aimed at hurting Turkey.
Mr. Zarrab, 34, was arrested by U.S. authorities in March 2016 on suspicion of taking part in the alleged sanctions-busting scam but is now cooperating with the authorities in an apparent plea bargain.
Ankara has reacted with fury to the switch by Mr. Zarrab — once seen as the golden boy of the Turkish business world with a pop star wife — seizing his assets and opening an investigation against him on accusations of “espionage”.
A total of 17 people have now been detained as part of this investigation, with three picked up initially and 14 more in a later sweep, the Anadolu news agency reported.
Sinem Arslan, Regaip Akol and Mustafa Hacisalihoglu who were remanded in initial police raid are accused of sending documents to Mr. Zarrab’s lawyers in the U.S., according to a report appeared on the Turkish Hurriyet daily.
According to a note obtained by police, Mr. Zarrab allegedly asks Ms. Arslan to contact his lawyer in Dubai to explore the opportunity for the businessman to live there once he is released from the U.S. prison.
He wants to learn that whether it would be possible to settle down in Dubai if he gets reduced sentences in the U.S. case.
President Erdogan continued to rail against the U.S. authorities, casting the ongoing trial as a plot against Turkey.
Turkish officials have repeatedly argued that the U.S. case is a bid by U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen to besmirch President Erdogan and Turkey, following a corruption scandal in late 2013 that had also seen Zarrab arrested.
“The case is not a plot against America, it’s a plot against Turkey,” Mr. Erdogan told supporters in a speech on Tuesday.
“The case has nothing to do with law, justice or trade, it’s an acrobatic spectacle,” he added.
The case risks further straining relations between the Turkish leader and U.S. President Donald J. Trump already damaged by rows over the Syria conflict and U.S. prosecution of Turkish presidential bodyguards.
Mr. Erdogan repeatedly raised the issue in meetings with President Trump and his predecessor Barack Obama while former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, once part of Zarrab’s defense team, held a secret meeting with the Turkish leader in February.
‘Erdogan warned by MIT’
But the case has also become a hot political issue inside Turkey, with the leader of the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) Kemal Kilicdaroglu seizing on it to back up his claims of corruption at the heart of the Turkish elite.
Mr. Kilicdaroglu said on Tuesday that Turkey’s National Intelligence Organisation (MIT) had in April 2013 warned President Erdogan that Zarrab was breaking U.S. law and this could damage Turkey.
“I ask Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The actions of this fraudster, the bribes to ministers, all this was given to you” by the MIT, he said. “And what did you do? You closed the dossier”.
Mr. Kilicdaroglu called on Prime Minister Binali Yildirim to open a parliamentary commission of inquiry into the matter as it was not right “a Turkish corruption case should be judged in the United States”.
Since Mr. Zarrab became a witness, deputy chief executive of Turkish lender Halkbank Mehmet Hakan Atilla is now the lone defendant in the dock accused of violating sanctions, bribery and money laundering.
The gold trader has admitted to bribing former Turkish economy minister Zafer Caglayan and being involved in the multi-billion-dollar gold-for-oil scheme.
On Thursday he told the court he was informed that in 2012, then prime minister Erdogan and then treasury minister Ali Babacan had given “instructions” for two other Turkish public banks to take part in the scheme.