Laundering Turkey’s clothes in the US?

Laundering Turkey’s clothes in the US?

That is how Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the leader of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), described the memorandum filed on May 25 by U.S. attorney Preet Bharara against defendant Reza Zarrab’s bail request. Kılıçdaroğlu observed on May 26 that in Turkey it was not possible to try four former ministers of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) over (quashed) accusations of being bribed by Zarrab, but those accusations are now being repeated in the U.S. in the ongoing case against the young Iranian-Turkish millionaire.

Former interior minister Muammer Güler, former economy minister Zafer Çağlayan, former EU affairs minister Egemen Bağış, and former urbanization minister Erdoğan Bayraktar were accused of taking bribes for political influence in business affairs, including from Zarrab, in the corruption probes of Dec. 17 and 25, 2013. Their trial would only have been possible if parliament had voted to lift their immunities, but the forming of a parliamentary commission was rejected with AK Parti votes. The accusations were later dismissed, including accusations against Zarrab, after he had spent 72 days in prison. Then prime minister, now President Tayyip Erdoğan denounced the probes as a “coup attempt” by former ally Fethullah Gülen, a U.S.-based Islamist ideologue with sympathizers in the state apparatus, particularly in the judiciary and security administration. Many of the judges, prosecutors, and police officers involved in the graft probes were later removed from their positions and some are now in jail, accused of conspiring against the government. 

The previous failure to try the four ex-ministers was the main objection of some in the CHP to the recent lifting of parliamentary immunities of MPs with probes pending against them. It also formed the background of Kılıçdaroğlu’s “laundry” analogy, in response to the Bharara document filed on May 25.

From the Bharara documents, Turkish readers have also learned that Zarrab had a Macedonian passport - in addition to his original Iranian and Turkish passports. His Turkish passport was acquired when he was engaged in the lucrative oil-for-gold trade with Turkey, when the four ex-ministers were still in the cabinet. That trade, which violated international sanctions on Iran, is one of the reasons why Zarrab is now under investigation in the U.S.

In the memorandum - which has been accepted by the court, thus denying Zarrab bail - Bharara warned that Zarrab could try to escape to Turkey and bribe his way to not being extradited to the U.S. for the rest of the trial - despite the extradition treaty between Turkey and the U.S. The Bharara memorandum has been posted on the website of Voice of America (VOA), which is the official external broadcast institution of the U.S. government. 

It is obvious that Bharara’s claims are making the AK Parti government and President Erdoğan anxious, as they want the U.S. government to extradite Gülen to Turkey. After a number of court rulings, they now see Gülen as a “terrorist” who tried to bring down the Turkish government through those quashed 2013 corruption accusations. Today, parts of those dropped accusations are included in Bharara’s Zarrab file, which is likely to further complicate already strained ties between Turkey and the U.S.