Dhaka, Bangladesh
Erdogan Zarrab Affair Takes Bizarre Turn

Erdogan Zarrab Affair Takes Bizarre Turn

By Bart Marcois

Is Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan anxious about the potential for a U.S. federal investigation into his role in money laundering and sanctions evasion? I call it the Erdogan Zarrab affair. It looks like Erdogan is trying to use diplomatic pressure on the United States, in the hope that the Administration will decide that national interest trumps law enforcement. His effort to lead the world's Muslims in opposition to moving the American embassy to Jerusalem is part of that. So is his outreach to Russia and Iran. $800,000 Bounty for Former U.S. Officials The apparent Turkish campaign to strain relations with America took a bizarre twist yesterday. A wealthy ally of Erdogan, an anonymous businessman, offered a bounty of $800,000 for the capture of two former American officials. Turkish prosecutors have issued arrest warrants for Michael Rubin, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and a former Pentagon official; and Graham Fuller, a foreign policy analyst and former CIA station chief. It seems clear that Erdogan has concluded that Zarrab is preparing to cooperate with a federal investigation into Turkish government involvement in evading sanctions against Iran. Attorney Ozgur Celebi announced that his client had offered the bounty as a patriotic act. He described the client as a businessman from Bursa "involved in education," and said the man is a member of Erdogan's AKP party. Celebi said his client is "a person in love with his country, flag and nation." Erdogan's prosecutors accuse both men of having participated in a coup attempt in July 2016. The State Department dismissed the allegation. A spokesman said, "The notion that current or former employees of the United States Government were involved in the failed coup is absurd," but did not comment on the bounty other than to say the Department had seen the reports. Ludicrous But Dangerous Accusations Rubin and Fuller also dismiss the accusation as ludicrous, but are understandably concerned for their personal safety. Rubin has expressed anger at the failure of State to condemn the act. He spoke in an interview with the Washington Free Beacon. "This, after all, is a regime that saw nothing wrong with beating up protestors in the center of Washington, D.C." "The State Department's silence in the wake of Turkey putting a bounty on two Americans-both of whom were government officials-sends a horrible signal that encourages Turkey. All it takes is one crazy who equates silence with a green light and things can get bad fast. This, after all, is a regime that saw nothing wrong with beating up protestors in the center of Washington, D.C." Rubin is right. The federal government should take a very strong position to protect him and Fuller. And while the State Department may prefer to work in private, it needs to make it abundantly clear to Erdogan that they hold him personally responsible for this lawless action. Erdogan must withdraw the ridiculous indictments against Rubin and Fuller. Erdogan certainly will be slow to comply with those demands. They are mere camouflage for Erdogan's true agenda, which is to prevent U.S. authorities from releasing information about his involvement in money laundering and corruption. He may even fear a U.S. indictment himself, given the extraterritorial application of American laws against crimes involving U.S. dollars. When Turkish-Iranian gold dealer Reza Zarrab was first arrested in Florida in 2016, he put together a legal dream team of top-flight attorneys. He seemed to have chosen each attorney or firm with a particular line of defense in mind. These included a probable constitutional challenge to the American claim of jurisdiction over financial crimes committed overseas. Zarrab abandoned that strategy, however, and entered a plea deal with federal prosecutors. In a move that must have troubled Erdogan, Zarrab also refused visits from Turkish consular officials. He was transferred to a different prison facility, and cut off his communication with the Turkish government. Erdogan must have asked himself the same question American analysts are asking. What deal could Zarrab offer in exchange for leniency on the charges against him? And why would he avoid talking to his own government? It seems clear that Erdogan has concluded that Zarrab is preparing to cooperate with a federal investigation into Turkish government involvement in evading sanctions against Iran. This was what Zarrab was arrested for in the first place, by Turkish authorities. He implicated Erdogan and his son, several Ministers, and an Erdogan-linked bank executive in the scheme. Erdogan's response was to arrest the prosecutors and police who were investigating the matter. Like Rubin and Fuller, the police and prosecutors were accused of plotting a coup. Zarrab was freed, but he was arrested two years later by American authorities, probably using evidence supplied to them by the original Turkish prosecutors. How far is Erdogan willing to go in order to cover up whatever vulnerabilities he has on the alleged corruption and money laundering? Will he actually encourage the kidnapping of American scholars? Is he willing to jeopardize Turkey's position within NATO, and disrupt the Atlantic alliance? Before he goes too far, he should calculate fully the potential risks. He may find he has more to lose than to gain from his brinksmanship

Share |