Turkish-Iranian gold trader Reza Zarrab, who was arrested last year in Miami on charges of violating US sanctions against Iran, bank fraud and money laundering, is now cooperating with US federal prosecutors and has dropped a bombshell by making allegations against Turkish officials, including President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Among other confessions, the 34-year-old admitted to paying over €50 million in bribe to erstwhile economy minister Zafer Caglayan and claimed that Erdogan had personally instructed two Turkish banks to facilitate his multi-billion sanctions busting scheme. This testimony has far-reaching implications and has thus sent tremors through Turkish political circles.
The Turkish government has responded by saying that the ongoing prosecution in the United States is influenced by the reclusive US-based Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gulen – a claim dismissed by the judge sitting over the trial, Richard Berman, as “an illogical foreign conspiracy theory”.
Erdogan regime went the extra mile in freeing Zarrab when he was arrested in Turkey in late 2013 on partly similar charges. The officers leading investigation against him were initially dismissed or transferred and now have been either put behind bars or forced to leave the country.
Even after the arrest of Zarrab in the United States in 2016, the Erdogan regime left no stone unturned to set him free. Besides exerting diplomatic pressure on both Obama and Trump administrations, they held American citizens as hostage in Turkey and secretly offered a deal whereby the Americans would be released in exchange for Zarrab. As they failed to achieve the desired outcome, they are now absurdly accusing the US judiciary of being under the influence of Gulen.
The Turkish government is clearly nervous as to where this trial is heading and who else will be subjected to legal action by the US judiciary. Their anxiety has increased significantly also because a former Turkish top cop, Huseyin Korkmaz, who was briefly arrested for initiating a probe against Zarrab in Turkey testified during the trial that the police in Istanbul referred to Erdogan as “number one” as they investigated Zarrab and his partners.
Such hard-hitting revelations are surely heralding tough days for Erdogan whose relations with the West is already strained due to increasing authoritarianism at home and support to radical terrorist groups in the Middle East. But regardless of what comes their way in the future, the brunt of their frustration and anger at these developments right now is highly likely to be faced by tens of thousands of innocent citizens who have been incarcerated in Turkey for their alleged Gulen link, without a shred of evidence of any wrongdoings.
In a column published in staunchly pro-government Turkish language newspaper Yeni Safak, a former senior advisor to president Erdogan and a ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) MP, Aydin Unal, wrote:
There are more than 250,000 ‘brainless’ FETO members [a derogatory term coined by the Erdogan regime for Gulen Movement] who did not or could not flee, and their almost one million family members in Turkey. The Zarrab case will naturally make the lives of FETO members even more difficult.
A week later on December 4, in another op-ed for the same newspaper, Unal threatened Turkish journalists covering the Manhattan trial with extrajudicial killings.
During a live TV show, Cem Kucuk, an infamous Erdoganist motor-mouth, urged authorities to use waterboarding and other techniques of torture on those in prison for alleged Gulen link. He also exhorted the country’s intelligence agency to kill some of their family members in order to turn them into operatives for the Erdogan regime.
Given instances of torture in prisons and government abetted abduction of many citizens in broad daylight over the past one year, such threats coming from figures close to the country’s president only reinforces the view that the Turkish government is not shy of employing mafia tactics in order to supress dissenting voices in Turkey and abroad.
It’s only a matter of time before they are made to pay for their crimes, but for now those in their clutches are facing life-threatening risks. Those victims deserve our sincere solidarity and support.