Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has denounced as “politically motivated” the US prosecutors’ recent charges against a former economy minister accused of violating US sanctions on Iran, calling on Washington to review the move.
“I say clearly, I see this step taken against our former economy minister [Mehmet Zafer Caglayan] as a step taken against the Turkish republic,” Erdogan told reporters in Istanbul on Friday before departing for a visit to Kazakhstan.
“These steps are purely political,” he added. “The United States needs to revise this decision, there are very peculiar smells coming from this issue.”
Erdogan said that he had previously told US officials that Turkey would not apply sanctions against Iran.
The remarks came two days after US prosecutors charged Caglayan, former Halkbank general manager Suleyman Aslan and two others, of “conspiring to use the U.S. financial system to conduct hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of transactions on behalf of the government of Iran and other Iranian entities, which were barred by United States sanctions.”
The charges are part of an ongoing case against Iranian-Turkish gold trader Reza Zarrab and his co-defendants, who have all been accused of allegedly forging false documents and using front companies to process millions of dollars in transactions on Tehran’s behalf.
Erdogan says there are “ulterior motives” in charging Zarrab, who has pleaded not guilty.
Zarrab’s lawyers say the businessman was arrested together with his wife and 5 year-old daughter in March 2016, when they had traveled to the US in order to visit the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando. He has been detained in New York ever since and is expected to go on trial next month.
Caglayan and other Turkish officials are in Turkey and remain at large from US authorities.
Meanwhile, Turkish Economy Minister Nihat Zeybekci has defended his predecessor, and said US prosecutors have yet to prove their accusations.
“Caglayan did not do anything against Turkey’s interests. It is no concern to Turkey if Caglayan acted against interests of other countries,” Zeybekci commented.
Ankara-Washington relations have been strained over US-backed militiamen from the so-called Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), who launched an operation on June 6 aimed at pushing Daesh Takfiri terrorists out of Syria’s militant-held northern city of Raqqah.
The SDF is a coalition of Kurdish and Arab fighters, and is dominated by the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG). Ankara views YPG as a terrorist outfit over its alleged links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
Moreover, there has been no progress on Ankara’s demand from Washington to extradite US-based opposition cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom the Turkish government accuses of having masterminded the failed July 15 coup attempt.
Gulen has denounced the “despicable putsch” and reiterated that he had no role in it.
Tensions between the two countries further soared last month, when after the US Justice Department indicting of his security personnel over assaulting protesters outside the Turkish Embassy in Washington in May.
Erdogan said on Friday he hoped to have the opportunity to discuss the case, when he visits New York for the United Nations General Assembly on September 18.
“I hope we’ll get a chance to discuss this issue in the United States. You may be a big nation, but being a just nation is something else. Being a just nation requires the legal system to work fairly,” the Turkish head of state pointed out.