President Recep Tayyip Erdogan criticized U.S. prosecutors for bringing charges against a former Turkish minister accused of laundering money on behalf of Iran, calling it a politically motivated act against Turkey.
Speaking to reporters in Istanbul on Friday, Erdogan said he had made it clear to the previous U.S. administration that Turkey wouldn’t take part in any sanctions against neighboring Iran, and that former Economy Minister Zafer Caglayan was simply executing the policies of his government.
The latest developments threaten to deepen a diplomatic row that began more than a year ago when Reza Zarrab, a Turkish-Iranian gold trader, was arrested in the U.S. Turkey, a key U.S. ally in the Middle East, has repeatedly protested the prosecution of its nationals, who are charged with helping Iran to facilitate payments through the U.S. financial system at a time when sanctions were being tightened in response to the country’s nuclear program.
“I see this step against our former economy minister as a step against the Republic of Turkey,” said Erdogan, who is scheduled to visit the U.S. this month. “The U.S. should review this and hopefully we will find an opportunity to discuss it in our upcoming visit. There are bad smells coming out of this.”
The new allegations Wednesday by federal prosecutors in New York expand on the prosecution of Zarrab and Halkbank executive Mehmet Hakan Atilla, who were already scheduled to go on trial on Oct. 30. They’ve denied wrongdoing.
In addition to Caglayan, new charges were pressed against Suleyman Aslan, Halkbank’s former chief executive, and Levent Balkan, a former assistant deputy manager for international banking. There are nine defendants in total.
Caglayan served as Turkey’s economy minister from 2011 until the end of 2013, when he was caught up in a corruption probe that was later dropped. Prosecutors said Caglayan received tens of millions of dollars in cash and jewelry to facilitate the scheme for Iran while hiding it from U.S. officials.