ANKARA: The Turkish government on Monday described a court case in the US that has aroused the ire of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan as a plot against Turkey, saying the suspects were being held like hostages.
Reza Zarrab, a Turkish-Iranian national, and Mehmet Hakan Atilla, the deputy chief executive of Turkish lender Halkbank, are being held in the United States on charges of violating sanctions against Iran.
They are to go on trial on November 27, with the jury selection set to take place in New York later on Monday.
Turkish officials have already accused the prosecutors behind the case of having links to Fethullah Gulen, the US-based Islamic preacher who Ankara blamed for last year’s failed coup, accusations he denies.
“This is a political case devoid of any content,” the government spokesman, Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag, said after a cabinet meeting chaired by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
“This case is a plot directed against Turkey. Quite clearly the defendants… are being subjected to pressure,” he added.
“They are being held like hostages,” he said. The case has intrigued opponents of the government in Turkey, where Zarrab was linked to a 2013 corruption scandal that Erdogan denounced as a plot by Gulen to bring down his government.
The intrigue has been intensified by American reports that Zarrab is now cooperating with the US prosecutors, raising the prospect of a plea bargain that could embarrass Ankara.
Bozdag accused the US prosecutors of trying to force the suspects to give statements that will tarnish Turkey but insisted there was “no legitimate evidence”.
“It is very clear the main goal is to damage economic relations with Iran, relations with Russia and economic relations with other countries,” Bozdag said.
Bozdag drew parallels between the December 2013 corruption scandal and this current case, claiming Gulen “had then failed to launch a coup in the (Turkish) judiciary and is now repeating it in the US judiciary.”
Erdogan has repeatedly called for the release of Zarrab and Atilla, with the issue becoming a another bone of contention in the troubled relations between Ankara and Washington.
Zarrab was arrested by US authorities in March 2016 after flying with his pop star wife Ebru Gundes and their daughter to Miami for a Disney World holiday.
Turkish prosecutors on Saturday launched a criminal probe against the American attorneys behind the case — former attorney for the Southern District of New York Preet Bharara and his successor Joon Kim — on accusations of fabricating the case.—AFP