Why is Preet Bharara so popular in Turkey?

Why is Preet Bharara so popular in Turkey?

It is not every day that a U.S. attorney becomes a public hero for a whole class of people in Turkey, but that is the case with Preet Bharara, who indicted Reza Zarrab. Thanks to Bharara’s legal work, Zarrab will to stand trial in New York for violating Iranian sanctions, money laundering, and defrauding the U.S. government. 

So why is Bharara, who says he has received over a quarter of a million tweets from his Turkish fans so far, so popular among so many Turks? In a recent address to the New York Press Association (NYPA) he explained why. But before turning to that, it must be pointed out that Zarrab is a hated symbol for a whole class of people who represent corruption with impunity in Turkey.

Zarrab was arrested in Turkey during the so called “December 17 [2013]” operation on charges of bribing government officials in order to secure vast material advantages for himself in the “gold-for-oil” tradeoff used to bypass U.S. sanctions against Iran at the time. 

Four former Justice and Development Party (AKP) ministers were also indicted. The case against Zarrab and others arrested in this case were promptly dropped, while prosecutors involved were summarily dismissed on charges of being supporters of the Gülen movement who were allegedly out to topple President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the ruling AKP. 

That is when the “Islamist alliance” between Erdoğan and Gülen broke and the war between them started in earnest. Zarrab subsequently used government protection and this made the allegations against him stick even more firmly in the public’s mind. 

Then came Bharara’s indictment. Bharara was showered with compliments and was invited to Turkey.

Bharara’s popularity is even greater after his address to the NYPA.  Bharara says part of the reason for his popularity in Turkey is the feeling among many Turks that corruption is not being dealt with properly in the country. He said he would not comment on this sentiment but suggested that this is what he had gleaned from the vast number of tweets he received from Turks. 

Another reason he said, citing media watchdog groups like Freedom House, was the feeling that freedom of opinion, along with the free press, in social media are under government attack in Turkey. Bharara pointed to a Reuters’ report which indicated that since becoming president, Erdoğan had brought no less than 1,800 lawsuits against people who allegedly insulted him or members of his family.

Bharara also underlined that the “silliest” accusation, among many, that have been levelled against him had come from Turkey, which has suggested that he received 2.5 million dollars in bribes to topple the Turkish government using the Zarrab case.

All of this is known to most Turks, but they were still delighted to hear it for the first time from Bharara.

What Bharara’s Turkish fans clearly liked most of all, however, were his defiant remarks. 

Especially when he pointed out that he is very proud of what his office does, and that they will always pursue corruption cases because they believe in the rule of law, which ensures that no one is above the law, no matter what his or her station in life may be.

It is not hard to understand why so many Turks love Preet Bharara. He has come to represent a longing in Turkey where many believe they will never see the rule of law respected by the present administration in their country.