Tensions escalate between Turkey, US over consulate employee case

Sentencing of Metin Topuz “undermines confidence in Turkey’s institutions," said Pompeo.
Friday 12/06/2020
Outside view of the Istanbul courthouse. (AFP)
Outside view of the Istanbul courthouse. (AFP)

ISTANBUL - Turkey escalated tensions with Washington today, accusing the United States of becoming a “safe harbour” for members of a network that it blames for a coup attempt in 2016 after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo criticised the conviction of US consulate employee Metin Topuz on terror charges.

Topuz, a translator for the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) at the consulate in Istanbul, was sentenced to eight years and nine months for aiding the network which Turkey blames for the 2016 coup attempt, state-owned Anadolu news agency said.

The consulate employee's trial has been a major source of tension between the two NATO allies, which are also at odds over Ankara’s purchase of Russian missile defence systems and US support for Kurdish fighters in north-eastern Syria.

Topuz, who was initially accused of espionage and trying to overthrow the government, has already been in jail for two and a half years. In March, a prosecutor said he should be acquitted on those charges and instead face up to 15 years in prison for being a member of a terrorist organisation.

Commenting on the development, Pompeo said in a statement there was no credible evidence to support the court’s decision and the conviction “undermines confidence in Turkey’s institutions and the critical trust at the foundation of Turkish-American relations.”

Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Hami Aksoy hit back, claiming that other people with links to the network of US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen had “infiltrated” US missions in Turkey and accusing US authorities of ignoring requests for the extradition of Gulen-affiliated individuals.

“We are concerned that the United States has become a safe harbor for members of (Gulen’s) terrorist organisation,” Aksoy said in a written statement.

Aksoy also called on the United States to respect the “judicial independence” of Turkey’s courts and to refrain from attempts “to influence the judiciary.”

Following Topuz’s initial detention in 2017, the two countries mutually suspended visa services.

In a 78-page indictment that included telephone calls, text messages and CCTV images, Topuz was accused of links to officials who led a 2013 corruption investigation and were later found to be members of Gulen’s network, blamed by Ankara for the aborted 2016 coup.

Topuz said during the trial that he contacted the individuals, who at the time held high-ranking positions in the police and judiciary, as part of his job.

Gulen has lived in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania since 1999, and has denied any involvement in the coup attempt.