President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has once again lashed out at the US administration for the arrest of Turkish-Iranian businessman Reza Zarrab, reiterating his earlier claims that the US prosecutor indicting Zarrab is linked to the faith-based Gülen movement.
Zarrab was the prime suspect in a major corruption investigation that became public in December 2013 in which then-Prime Minister Erdoğan’s inner circle was implicated. Zarrab was arrested by US authorities in Miami in March on charges of helping Iran process millions of dollars of transactions when it was under US sanctions for its nuclear program.
Speaking at a ceremony at his presidential palace in Ankara for the induction of judges and prosecutors, Erdoğan said: “… [Y]our prosecutors will be brought to Turkey by the FETÖ terror organization [a term used by Erdoğan to refer to the Gülen movement], they will be entertained here… Then, they will return to the US and arrest a Turkish citizen there, keep him in jail for six months and not try him. You will call this impartiality and independence. When we ask you ‘Why don’t you try that person?’ you will say, ‘There is an independent and impartial judiciary here, this and that. Pardon me but we have a judiciary that is more independent and impartial than yours.”
Erdoğan and pro-government circles have been claiming for a while that US Attorney for the Southern District of New York Preet Bharara, who indicted Zarrab, has links to the Gülen movement.
Responding to these allegations, Bharara said in a statement last month that he had just learned Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen’s name from Google and has never been to Turkey. Gülen, who lives in the US in self-imposed exile, is the figure who inspired the Gülen movement with his teachings.
The prosecutor said until the day he was claimed to be a Gülen sympathizer, he had never even heard Gülen’s name and searched for it on Google.
Bharara also said although Turkish President Erdoğan accused him of mingling with Gülen sympathizers in Turkey, he has never been to Turkey.
The Turkish government and Erdoğan accuse the Gülen movement of masterminding 2013’s corruption investigation and a failed coup attempt in July although the movement strongly denies any involvement in either.
In his speech on Wednesday Erdoğan talked about Turkey’s request for the extradition of Gülen by the US, saying that although Turkey extradites the terrorists requested by the US, the US does not reciprocate, saying that independent courts will make the decision.
He said if a similar request is made by the US for the extradition of a terrorist at some time in the future, then Turkey will refer the situation to its judges and prosecutors as well.
“As long as you don’t make a decision, we will not make one, either. This will be the case from now on. We will call ourselves strategic partners but will speak differently. Such a thing is unacceptable,” the president told the judges and prosecutors in attendance.
Erdoğan’s remarks came as confirmation of claims that Turkish judges made their rulings under the influence of the government and not in accordance with the law.
In response to Turkey’s insistent calls to the US for the extradition of Gülen, US officials say that it is the US courts that will make a decision on the issue.
In the meantime, Erdoğan also said as many as 3,456 judges and prosecutors have been expelled from their posts due to their links with the Gülen movement since the failed coup attempt in July.
Turkey experienced a military coup attempt on July 15 that killed over 240 people and wounded more than a thousand others. Immediately after the putsch, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government along with President Erdoğan pinned the blame on the Gülen movement despite the lack of any evidence to that effect.
Although the Gülen movement strongly denies having any role in the putsch, the government accuses it of having masterminded the foiled coup despite the lack of any tangible evidence.
Turkish Islamic scholar Gülen, who inspired the movement, called for an international investigation into the coup attempt, but President Erdoğan — calling the coup attempt “a gift from God” — and the government initiated a widespread purge aimed at cleansing sympathizers of the movement from within state institutions, dehumanizing its popular figures and putting them in custody.
More than 100,000 people have been purged from state bodies, more than 70,000 detained and 34,000 arrested since the coup attempt.