ISTANBUL: Turkish prosecutors have prepared the charge sheet against a local employee of the US consulate who was arrested over alleged links to the network of US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, Demiroren News Agency (DHA) reported.
Gulen is accused by Ankara of orchestrating a coup attempt in 2016, in which he denies all involvement.
Consulate worker Metin Topuz’s arrest in October 2017 added to existing tensions between the United States and Turkey, and led to a months-long suspension of bilateral visa services.
Relations between the two NATO allies have been strained over US support for Kurdish fighters in northern Syria, Turkey’s plan to buy a Russian missile defense system, and the US jailing of an executive at a Turkish state bank in an Iran sanctions-busting case.
Topuz is in jail along with two other local consulate employees, as is a Turkish-US national and former NASA scientist who faces terrorism charges. Washington wants all of them to be released.
DHA quoted from Topuz’s 78-page indictment, which stated that he had very close contact with police officers suspected of playing a role in the coup attempt. The news agency said the document listed President Tayyip Erdogan and former Prime Minister Binali Yildirim, among others, as complainants.
Under Turkish law, a judge would now decide if Topuz’s case should proceed to trial.
The prosecutor’s office could not immediately be reached for comment on Saturday.
Ankara has repeatedly demanded that the United States extradite Gulen to Turkey. The cleric has lived in self-imposed exile since 1999.
Turkey has detained 160,000 people and dismissed nearly the same number of civil servants over suspected links to the coup attempt, according to the UN human rights office.
There was some easing of US-Turkish tensions late last year when an Ankara court freed a US pastor who had been detained for two years over accusations of links to Kurdish militants and supporters of Gulen.
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.