Ricciardone refutes claims US 'behind Turkey graft probe'
United States Ambassador to Turkey, Francis J. Ricciardone, has refuted Turkish media reports that the U.S. was "behind" the ongoing graft probe following the Turkish prime minister’s insinuating comments about those “engaging in provocative actions.”
"The United States is in no way involved in the ongoing corruption and bribery operation," Ricciardone said in a written statement released on Dec. 21.
"Nobody should put Turkey-U.S. relations in danger with unfounded claims," he stressed.
Riccardone’s statement came a few hours after Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan accused some ambassadors of interfering in the Turkish government’s business while speaking during a rally in the Black Sea province of Samsun.
Even though the prime minister avoided giving any names, his timing that coincided with several pro-government dailies’ publishing reports that targeted the U.S. ambassador over the corruption probe, led his remarks to be interpreted as referring to him as well.
“In the recent days, interestingly some ambassadors have been engaging in provocative actions. I am calling out to them from Samsun: Do your own business,” he said.
Warning “these ambassadors” he was referring to against stepping beyond the scope of their authority, the prime minister said the Turkish government was not obliged to keep ambassadors in.
“We do not have to keep you in our country. If our ambassadors to your countries are getting involved in any kinds of games, you should let us know as well, we would take our ambassadors back,” he stressed.
US ambassador’s statement sufficient: Foreign Ministry
Meanwhile, the Foreign Ministry released a statement in response to Riccardone’s, noting the ministry’s satisfaction with the U.S. ambassador’s explanation.
“We find the U.S. ambassador’s statement sufficient. There is no plan of calling him to the ministry on the issue,” the ministry statement read.
Over 80 people, including the sons of Interior Minister Muammer Güler, Environment and Urban Planning Minister Erdoğan Bayraktar and Economy Minister Zafer Çağlayan, accused of being involved in corruption and bribery have been detained as part of an operation orchestrated in Ankara and Istanbul.
Three Turkish newspapers known for their pro-government reports, Akşam, Star and Yeni Şafak, claimed Dec.21 on their first pages that Ricciardone had said, "You will watch the fall of an empire" to EU ambassadors in a meeting on Dec. 17, the day when a graft operation that hit the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) became public.
Ricciardone denied that even such a meeting happened in the statement he disclosed.
Some pro-government media outlets have suggested the involvement of external forces in the ongoing fight, with particular emphasis on the alleged role of the U.S., where Fethullah Gülen has been living since the late 1990s.
Reports claimed that the international community, led by the U.S. and other prominent Western countries, had joined forces against Erdoğan and were allying with the Gülen community to this end.
U.S. officials who had spoken to the Hürriyet Daily News on Dec. 18 had strongly denied conspiracy theories suggesting Washington’s role in the ongoing struggle between the government and the powerful Gülen community that has exploded with a new corruption probe.
“Please don’t draw us into your family fight here. We don’t want one side or the other to feed this conspiracy idea that we are against the prime minister or against Fethullah Gülen Hocaefendi,” U.S. officials had said.