ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Turkey called on Monday for the case against a Turkish gold trader in the United States to be dropped, saying he had been pressured to make accusations against Turkey and that the case was being used to impose sanctions on Ankara.
Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag said the case against the trader, Reza Zarrab, who is accused of evading U.S. sanctions on Iran, was an “indisputable plot against Turkey” and that it had no legal basis.
“They want to impose certain sanctions on Turkey through the Zarrab case, but the trade between Iran and Turkey is in line with our laws and international laws,” Bozdag, who is also the Turkish government spokesman, told broadcaster Kanal 24.
“They may have told Zarrab: ‘Either you will remain in prison until you die, or you will sign under what we tell you,’ and they threatened him with retributions to sign off on accusations.”
Zarrab and eight other people, including executives of Turkish state-owned Halkbank, have been charged with engaging in transactions worth hundreds of millions of dollars for Iran’s government and Iranian entities from 2010 to 2015 in a scheme to evade U.S. sanctions.
Only Zarrab and Mehmet Hakan Atilla, one of the Halkbank executives, have been arrested by U.S. authorities. They have denied the charges against them, and the Turkish government says the defendants acted within Turkish and international law.
Jury selection for the trial is due to start on Monday, but Zarrab has dropped out of sight in the last two months, prompting Turkey’s prime minister to suggest he has reached a plea deal with U.S. authorities.
The Turkish government has previously said the case is politically motivated and that it may have been instigated by supporters of U.S.-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen who it says have infiltrated U.S. institutions including the judiciary.
“Needless to say, those claims are ridiculous,” Acting U.S. Attorney, Kim H. Joon said last week. The case has been handled by career prosecutors concerned only with U.S. law, not Turkish politics, Kim said, adding: “They’re not Gulenists.”
Turkey blames Gulen’s network for last year’s failed military coup against President Tayyip Erdogan in which more than 240 people were killed.
The Zarrab case is one of several festering disputes between Ankara and Washington, which disagree over U.S. support for Kurdish fighters in Syria and suspended visa services after the arrest of a locally employed U.S. consulate worker in Istanbul last month.
Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Writing by Ali Kucukgocmen; Editing by Dominic Evans, William Maclean