Feb 01 2019

Turkish court says to try U.S. consulate staffer next month

A Turkish court on Friday said it would open the trial next month of a Turkish employee of the U.S. consulate on charges espionage and attempting to overthrow the government, a case that has contributed to a diplomatic rift between NATO members Turkey and the United States.

Sözcü newspaper said the first hearing of the trial of Metin Topuz was scheduled for March 26. Topuz was arrested in October 2017 and faces a possible life sentence. 

The United States imposed sanctions on two Turkish ministers and doubled tariffs on metals from Turkey for its two-year detention of an American pastor, but dropped the measures against the ministers when a Turkish court freed the evangelical preacher in October.

Prosecutors accuse Topuz of being linked the Gülen movement, a religious group Turkish government blames for orchestrating a coup attempt in 2016. The indictment says Topuz was in touch with some police officers who have been imprisoned for being members of the movement, which Turkey sees as a terrorist organisation. The prosecutors ask aggravated life imprisonment for Topuz.

Two other U.S. consulate employees and a Turkish-U.S. national and former NASA employee are also in jail in Turkey facing terrorism charges. 

Topuz’s messages, sent via WhatsApp, have been presented as evidence by the prosecutors, who, according to Sözcü, say that his comments regarding the arrest of a Turkish-Azeri businessman in the United States went beyond predictions as they turned out to be mostly correct.

Turkish-Iranian gold trader Reza Zarrab was arrested in Miami in 2016 for his involvement in a scheme to evade U.S. sanctions on Iran, but turned state witness to help in the conviction of a Turkish banker for his part in the plot. A Turkish former minister was also named in the indictment.