AP NEWS

Turkish employee of US Consulate indicted for espionage

January 20, 2019

ISTANBUL (AP) — Turkish prosecutors are seeking a life sentence for a local employee of the United States consulate in Istanbul accused of attempting to overthrow the government and espionage.

A 78-page indictment seen by The Associated Press on Sunday against Turkish national Metin Topuz, jailed since October 2017, said he was in “very intense contact” with police officers who led a 2013 anti-corruption investigation that implicated top government officials.

The Turkish government accused U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen for attempting a “judicial coup” with that investigation and labeled his network a terror group. Gulen is also blamed for the 2016 failed coup but he denies the accusations.

The indictment said Topuz, who worked as a translator and fixer for the Drug Enforcement Agency in the U.S. Consulate in Istanbul, told authorities he had been in touch with several police officers with alleged links to Gulen for narcotic investigations.

The prosecutor said this was a “reflexive acknowledgment of his crimes” and claimed Topuz’s communication with the officers was “beyond the limits of consular work.”

The indictment includes telephone calls, text messages, CCTV frame grabs with suspected police officers, along with testimonies from four witnesses and two suspects.

He’s also accused of privacy violations and illegally recording personal data.

A call to Topuz’s lawyer on Sunday was not immediately returned.

A judge will decide whether the case will proceed to trial. Among the 30 complainants are Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and former ministers.

Topuz’s arrest increased tensions between the two NATO allies in 2017 and led to the suspension of bilateral visa services for more than two months.

Relations hit rock bottom last summer when U.S. President Donald Trump sanctioned two Turkish officials and increased tariffs on aluminum and steel imports, causing a huge loss in the Turkish lira’s value, to pressure the country to release an imprisoned American pastor. Pastor Andrew Brunson was convicted in October for terror links but later allowed to leave the country.

Two other local consular employees are under investigation in Turkey. Jailed translator Hamza Ulucay is accused of terror group membership with alleged links to outlawed Kurdish militants, and staff Mete Canturk was placed under house arrest.

Ties have been on the mend since, but a host of issues remain as irritants, including U.S. support for Kurdish militants in Syria Turkey considers terrorists, Turkey’s pledge to buy Russian missile defense systems and cleric Gulen’s continued residence in Pennsylvania.

The Turkish government launched a massive crackdown against Gulen’s network following the 2016 coup and arrested more than 77,000 people and sacked more than 130,000 public employees through emergency decrees. Critics say the purge went beyond the suspects of the coup with the arrest of journalists, lawmakers and activists.

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