Turkey's foreign minister has accused the United States of bringing what he called a "politically motivated" and "fabricated" case against a Turkish-Iranian businessman accused of helping Iran evade U.S. sanctions.
Mevlut Cavusoglu told reporters in Istanbul on November 17 that he believes the U.S. case against Reza Zarrab, a wealthy gold trader with close ties to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's government, is based on a 2013 case that was brought against Zarrab in Turkey and later dropped.
In the 2013 case, Turkish prosecutors accused Zarrab and high-ranking Turkish officials of facilitating Iranian money transfers via gold smuggling, leaked documents at the time showed.
Erdogan, who was then prime minister, portrayed the case as a coup attempt orchestrated by his political enemies. Several prosecutors were removed from the case, and the investigation was later dropped.
"When you look at the indictment of Mr. Zarrab [in the U.S. case], it is exactly the same one" pursued in 2013, Cavusoglu said. "All those indictments and files that they have fabricated here [in Turkey], they were taken back to the United States."
Cavusoglu blamed both the dropped case in Turkey and the case pending in New York on sympathizers of the exiled Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, who Erdogan blames for a failed coup against him last year.
"It seems very politically motivated," Cavusoglu said of the U.S. case, insisting that neither Zarrab or his co-defendant, Turkish bank executive Mehmet Hakan Atilla, violated any U.S. sanctions or other laws.
Zarrab and his lawyer have skipped several court hearings in preparation for his trial in New York recently, leading to speculation that he may be cutting a deal with U.S. authorities to avoid prosecution.
NBC News has reported that Zarrab is cooperating with U.S. prosecutors on a money-laundering case possibly involving top Turkish officials.