Posts Tagged ‘President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’

Turkey furious over US sanctions-busting conviction

January 4, 2018


© AFP/File / by Fulya OZERKAN | Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had repeatedly slammed the New York trial of a Turkish banker as a plot against Turkey
ISTANBUL (AFP) – Turkey reacted furiously Thursday to the fraud conviction in New York of a Turkish banker which came after an explosive trial over Iran sanctions-busting that implicated ex-ministers and even President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.The conviction of Mehmet Hakan Atilla, deputy chief executive of Turkish lender Halkbank, is set to further ratchet up strains between Washington and Ankara in an increasingly trouble-plagued relationship.

“The US court… has interfered in Turkey’s domestic affairs in an unprecedented way based on so-called evidence that is only fit for forgery and political abuse,” the Turkish foreign ministry said in a statement.

A jury in New York found Atilla guilty on Wednesday of five counts of bank fraud and conspiracy.

The federal trial hinged on the testimony of well-connected Turkish-Iranian businessman Reza Zarrab, who became a government witness after admitting his involvement in the multi-billion-dollar gold-for-oil scheme to subvert US economic sanctions against Iran.

His testimony implicated former Turkish ministers and Erdogan in the scheme, and identified 47-year-old Atilla as a key organiser.

Turkey’s foreign ministry branded the US ruling as “unfair and unfortunate,” and “a shame of law”.

Erdogan’s spokesman Ibrahim Kalin meanwhile described the conviction as a “scandalous decision in a scandalous case” and a “shameful scenario”.

– ‘Political plot’-

Erdogan had repeatedly slammed the trial as a plot against Turkey and, according to American newspaper reports, had often raised the case in talks with US leaders.

Former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, at that point part of Zarrab’s legal team, had even met Erdogan in Ankara in search of a solution to the case.

Zarrab, a prominent gold trader, agreed to testify after striking a deal to plead guilty to violating US sanctions in a switch that infuriated Ankara. His assets in Turkey were later seized.

Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag blasted the case as a “political plot”, saying the jury’s conviction “doesn’t have any legal value from Turkey’s point of view.”

“This decision is against international law,” he wrote on Twitter.

Ties between Turkey and the US have been strained over a number of issues including Washington’s refusal so far to extradite the Muslim preacher Fethullah Gulen, who Ankara blames for orchestrating the failed 2016 coup.

Only last week, the two sides resolved a months-long crisis that resulted in the suspension of visa services for Americans in Turkey and vice versa.

The foreign ministry statement said the court in the US was influenced by some Gulen group members who “made unrealistic allegations,” with the ministry saying that “destroyed the court process’s seriousness and credibility.”

Bozdag went even further, saying the case was “tangible proof” that the CIA and FBI were engaged in judicial cooperation with Gulen’s group.

Atilla is due to be sentenced on April 11. Zarrab’s sentencing date has not been scheduled.

– ‘Tens of millions of dollars’ –

Much of the case focused on Zarrab, 34, a key figure in a 2013 Turkish corruption scandal in which he allegedly bribed four ministers to facilitate sanctions-busting trade and other deals.

Those charges against Zarrab were ultimately dropped. But he was arrested in Miami in 2016 while seeking to take is family on a holiday to Florida, and eventually agreed to testify in the US case over violating Iran sanctions in a plea bargain.

In testimony in a New York court on November 30, he said he was told that Erdogan, as prime minister in 2012, and economy minister Ali Babacan had given “instructions” to two public banks to take part in the scheme.

Zarrab also said he paid tens of millions of dollars worth of bribes to then-economy minister, Zaref Caglayan, to facilitate illegal gold transactions with Iran.

Erdogan has rejected the allegations, saying Turkey did not violate the US embargo on Iran and that political rivals were behind the case.

Turkey’s Halkbank said in a statement that the court case was not yet finalised, adding that legal channels including an appeal were open.

It also noted that the bank was not a party to the case, and “nor is there administrative or financial decision taken against our bank by the court.”

by Fulya OZERKAN

Erdogan rival vows to overturn executive presidency

December 20, 2017


Turkey’s Iyi (“Good”) Party chairman Meral Aksener answers questions during an interview with AFP in Ankara, in this December 15, 2017 photo. (AFP)

ANKARA: A dissident Turkish nationalist who founded a new political party and is now viewed as a possible rival to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has vowed to scrap her opponent’s vision of a super-presidency if elected.

Meral Aksener, 61, Turkey’s first female interior minister between 1996 and 1997, told AFP in an interview that she was likely to stand against Erdogan in the next presidential polls.
Aksener broke away from Turkey’s traditional nationalist party, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), to establish her Iyi (“Good“) Party in October.
Analysts rate Aksener’s break with the MHP as a significant development in Turkish politics which could lure conservative votes away from Erdogan.
In an April 2017 referendum, Turkey narrowly approved constitutional changes backed by Erdogan to create an executive presidency that opponents fear will lead the way to one-man rule.
The changes should come into force after November 2019, when Turkey will hold simultaneous parliamentary and presidential elections for the first time.
“We have put the promise to bring it (a parliamentary system) back in our program because this … presidency, which has arisen in Turkey, is a strange outcome,” Aksener said.
She said her colleagues “want” her to run as the Good Party’s presidential candidate in the 2019 polls.
“Today it seems like I will be (the candidate) and I am willing,” she added.
But she said her party was also planning for possible snap general and presidential elections, as speculation mounts that Erdogan and his team may attempt to preempt any downturn in the economy.
One election date rumored in the press is July 15, 2018, the second anniversary of the attempted overthrow of Erdogan in the failed coup.One of the challenges Aksener faces is the 10-percent threshold a party needs to enter parliament but she insisted the group would have no “problem” meeting that benchmark.

Pollster Gezici, whose pre-referendum poll was near accurate, said last month that the party could get 19.5 percent of the vote while Aksener said party surveys show it could get as much as 20.5 percent.
Another pollster, Metropoll, put the party’s vote share at 8.5 percent, but said it had the potential to pass the threshold.
If Aksener wins, she would become Turkey’s first female president. Turkey has had one female prime minister in its 94-year history: the conservative Tansu Ciller, who served between 1993 and 1996.
Aksener was a close aide to Ciller in the 1990s as they were both members of the conservative True Path Party.
But Aksener dismissed comparisons with far-right EU politicians like Marine Le Pen of France’s National Front, describing herself as a nationalist and conservative with regards to Islam.
“There is a big difference between European nationalism and the understanding of nationalism existing in Turkey,” she said, sitting in front of an image of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk who founded the republic in 1923 from the ashes of the Ottoman Empire.
Aksener stressed that racism could not be found in the rhetoric of Turkish nationalists, who, according to her, “have never adopted such an approach.”
One of Aksener’s symbols during the campaign was a henna tattoo of the Turkish flag on the inside of her hand.Aksener, who has also been dubbed Turkey’s ‘Iron Lady’ in a nod to the late former British premier Margaret Thatcher, suggested any government led by her party would mend ties with the West.

This year, Turkey has had a series of diplomatic rows with its Western and NATO allies, in particular Germany and the United States.
“We think the issues with the West can be resolved,” she said, pointing to Ataturk’s famous slogan for Turkish foreign policy: “Peace at home, peace in the world.”
Aksener said she supported negotiations to join the European Union, telling AFP that talks should continue. But she urged the bloc to open chapters, or policy areas, regarding security and judicial issues in long-stalled accession talks that began in 2005.
Only 16 chapters have been opened out of a total of 35 since 2005, even though Ankara’s bid to be a part of the bloc dates back to the 1960s.

Erdogan risks diplomatic spat with Israel over Jerusalem

December 12, 2017


© AFP/File / by Ezzedine SAID | Thousands protested on December 9 against Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital

ISTANBUL (AFP) – By repeatedly hitting out at the US move to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan may be catering to his voter base, but he risks sabotaging Turkey’s already fragile relations with the Jewish state.While President Donald Trump’s decision last week was met with near-universal condemnation, particularly from the Muslim world, Erdogan has emerged as its most outspoken critic.

Following Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and to move the embassy there, Erdogan has levelled a string of accusations against Israel and the US, in his usual strident style.

Among other things he said Israel was a “terrorist state” that kills Palestinian children, adding that the US had “become a partner to this bloodshed”.

Such sentiments echo those held by many among Erdogan’s traditional voter base of Sunni Muslims in Turkey. His statements have also galvanised his popularity among some Muslims in the Arab world.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded to Erdogan, saying he was “not used to receiving lectures about morality from a leader who bombs Kurdish villagers in his native Turkey, who jails journalists, who helps Iran go around international sanctions, and who helps terrorists, including in Gaza”.

Erdogan, who considers himself a fervent supporter of the Palestinians, will hold a summit of leaders of Muslim countries on Wednesday, which he claimed will mark a “turning point” in the response to Washington’s decision.

Traditional heavyweights of the Middle East like Saudi Arabia and Egypt have condemned the move, but without announcing any concrete measures of their own.

– ‘Serious risk’ –

Erdogan, who comes from a conservative Islamist background, frequently criticises Israel and does not conceal his support for the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas, listed as a terrorist organisation by the US, Israel and several countries around the world.

His statements have been “consistent with the prevailing feelings among his own followers inside Turkey”, said Marc Pierini, visiting scholar at Carnegie Europe and former EU ambassador to Turkey.

But Erdogan’s escalation comes as Turkey and Israel are working to normalise ties since last year after a near-break in relations triggered by Israel’s storming of a Gaza-bound ship in 2010 which left 10 Turkish activists dead.

“Given the Israeli reaction to these statements, there is indeed a serious risk for Turkey-Israel normalisation. I think this is a risk that both sides are ready to take,” Pierini said.

According to Aaron Stein, resident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Centre, Erdogan is already thinking about elections scheduled for November 2019 when he is expected to run for a new term as president with boosted powers under an executive presidency approved in an April referendum.

By taking a firm stand against the Jerusalem move, it is “part of his broader effort to paint himself as the protector of oppressed Muslims around the world,” Stein added.

“The two sides don’t like each other, but are not standing in the way of normal economic relations. I think this is likely to continue, given Erdogan’s political calculations and Netanyahu’s own legal and political problems,” he added.

– ‘Domestic considerations prevail’ –

Sinan Ulgen, chairman of the Istanbul-based Centre for Economics and Foreign Policy and visiting scholar at Carnegie Europe, believes that Erdogan’s rhetoric on Jerusalem more broadly reflects a shift in Turkey’s foreign policy approach since the arrival of the Islamic-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP) in 2002.

“Traditionally, Turkey was able, in its diplomatic practice, to operate more in isolation from domestic political considerations,” Ulgen said.

“This has changed under AKP rule so that Turkey finds itself at almost another extreme where most foreign policy decisions are driven by domestic calculations.”

Ulgen said that it was from this perspective that Turkey’s efforts to lead the campaign against the US move should be read.

Erdogan “believes that there is public support at home to justify this more aggressive rhetoric against Israel”, even if it risks provoking a new diplomatic crisis, Ulgen said.

“One more time, domestic considerations tend to prevail over more cautious diplomatic practice.”

by Ezzedine SAID

Netanyahu in Brussels With EU’s Mogherini: Israel Should Give Peace a Chance

December 11, 2017

Netanyahu’s visit comes on the heels of a harsh exchange with the organization’s foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, who fiercely opposed Trump’s Jerusalem move

(Brussels, Belgium) Dec 11, 2017 9:24 AM
Image result for Netanyahu, Federica Mogherini, photos

File photo: Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) and the European Union chief of foreign policy 

An Israeli prime minister has not traveled to Brussels, the heart of the EU, in 22 years.

Trump’s decision on Jerusalem, and the ramifications of the policy shift, are expected to be a dominant issue during the meetings. Various EU leaders have slammed Trump for the Jerusalem-recognition move, saying that by doing so he has taken Israel’s side on the Jerusalem issue.

The EU has for years adopted the Palestinian position on the matter, saying east Jerusalem needs to be the capital of a future Palestinian state.

Despite Mogherini’s tough words about the recognition, the EU foreign ministers did not immediately issue a condemnation of the move, because of opposition from Hungary and the Czech Republic. The Czech Republic – a strong ally of Israel inside the EU – followed Trump’s recognition by announcing that it was recognizing west Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Hundreds of pro-Palestinian activists in Paris protested on Saturday against Netanyahu’s visit, holding Palestinian flags and pictures of Macron branded as an “accomplice.” Protests also took place in numerous capitals over the weekend, including in Berlin, Beirut, London, Mogadishu, Amman and Tehran, as well as in Istanbul.

The Turkish daily Hurriyet quoted a presidential source as saying that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Macron spoke by phone on Saturday and agreed to “close cooperation” on the Jerusalem issue.

According to Huriyet, the two presidents “agreed to continue efforts to convince the US to reconsider its decision.”

Erdogan has called for an emergency meeting of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation in Istanbul on Wednesday to discuss the matter. Observers in Jerusalem say that the Turkish president is trying to “ride” the issue into a leadership position on the Arab and Muslim street, similar to what he did following the Mavi Marmara incident in 2010 when he became the temporary darling of the Muslim world for his tough rhetoric and confrontational approach to Israel.

Erdogan also spoke on the phone with the presidents of Lebanon, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan on Saturday regarding the issue. Israel has strong ties with both Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan.

One senior diplomatic official said that Netanyahu’s visit to Paris and Brussels will undoubtedly be “hot,” and that the prime minister is “furious” at Mogherini for her comments.

According to assessments in Jerusalem, there are influential voices in the EU saying that this is an opportunity to “provide an alternative” and to initiate a peace plan of their own, perhaps reviving the French initiative that died earlier this year when presidents François Hollande of France and Barack Obama of the US left office.

Netanyahu, according to diplomatic sources, has sought a meeting with all the EU foreign ministers for months, but had to overcome initial skepticism on their part.

He is expected to “stand up” to the Europeans, criticizing their “obsession” over the settlements and telling them that they are feeding Palestinian intransigence by giving the impression that a solution can be imposed on Israel from the outside.

Mogherini announced last week that she invited Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to meet the foreign ministers at their monthly parley next month.

See also Haaretz (Paywall):

BRUSSELS – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lauded a possible peace deal being drafted by the White House while speaking at the European Union in Brussels…
read more:

Erdogan says Turkey cannot be ‘condemned by courts’ in US

December 2, 2017


© AFP/File | Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has lashed out at a US trial in which he has been implicated in a multi-billion-dollar gold-for-oil scheme


President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Saturday said Turkey could never be “condemned by virtual courts” in the US after he was implicated in a scheme allegedly designed to subvert US sanctions on Iran during a trial in New York.

Turkish-Iranian gold trader Reza Zarrab had been due to go on trial over the accusations but, to Turkey’s chagrin, he agreed to cooperate with US prosecutors and told a court on Thursday that Erdogan authorised two Turkish banks to circumvent the sanctions and launder money from Iran.

The case has angered Erdogan, who accused the trial of being linked to the network of Fethullah Gulen, the US-based Muslim cleric blamed by the Turkish government for last year’s failed coup.

“My country can never be condemned by virtual courts set up by FETO scoundrels, fake representatives,” Erdogan said during a televised speech in the eastern city of Kars, referring to Gulen’s group that Turkey has dubbed the “Fethullah Terrorist Organisation”.

“Someone has got up and decided they will apparently try my country in their falsely set-up courts. Don’t bother!” Erdogan added.

Turkey has repeatedly called for Gulen to be extradited, but he denies any involvement in the coup or terrorism.

Since Zarrab became the prosecution’s star witness in the trial, deputy chief executive of Turkish lender Halkbank Mehmet Hakan Atilla is now the lone man in the dock accused of violating sanctions, bribery and money laundering.

Zarrab has taken the stand three times since Wednesday, admitting to bribing a former Turkish economy minister and being involved in the multi-billion-dollar gold-for-oil scheme.

On Thursday he told the court he was informed that in 2012, then prime minister Erdogan and then treasury minister Ali Babacan had given “instructions” for two other Turkish public banks, Vakif and Ziraat, to take part in the scheme.

Zarrab was a key figure in a 2013 Turkish corruption scandal, which Ankara denounced at the time as another conspiracy by Gulen and his group.

Analysts say the embarrassing revelations could damage Erdogan politically and also harm the Turkish economy, if one or more Turkish banks are fined over violating sanctions.

Ankara has urged Zarrab to “turn back from his mistake” and claimed this week that the trader is under pressure to make defamatory claims against Turkey.

Istanbul’s public prosecutor ordered the seizure of Zarrab and his family’s assets late on Friday, accusing him of “espionage” for the benefit of a foreign state.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu earlier on Saturday claimed “FETO has infiltrated American missions in Turkey, the US judiciary, its Congress, everywhere, they have infiltrated all institutions in this or that way, legally or illegally.”

“The target is Turkey and the Turkish nation” — President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan Tells The Turkish People

November 20, 2017

Turkey, not just me, being targeted: Erdoğan

The recent scandal during a NATO drill in Norway was an attack targeting “Turkey and the Turkish nation,” President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said on Nov. 19, while acknowledging support from the opposition over the incident.

Turkey withdrew from the Trident Javelin exercise at The Joint Warfare Centre after a civilian Norwegian official depicted Erdoğan as an “enemy collaborator” during a bloc exercise. A portrait of the Republic of Turkey’s founder, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, was also shown on a “hostile leader list” during a computer-assisted exercise.

“They [NATO] carried out a scandal. They know that they cannot stop our country, which is why they are putting us on a target board. I hope that those who welcomed attacks against us before now understand the real face of the matter, as Atatürk was also included,” Erdoğan told a ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) provincial congress in the eastern province of Bayburt.

“The issue is not a personal or party issue. The target is Turkey and the Turkish nation,” he claimed, adding that the country was “ready for further major tests in the future.”

“Today there is a Turkey that cannot be compared with 15 years ago in every field – from the economy to the defense industry and from trade to diplomacy. There is now a Turkey that produces its own weapons and tanks. There is a country which is maintaining its fight against terror with its own unmanned aerial vehicles. There is a Turkey that is now preparing to produce its own indigenous car,” Erdoğan said.

His remarks came after NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg once again apologized to him over the incident on the phone late on Nov. 18.

In the phone call, Stoltenberg informed Erdoğan that an inquiry had been initiated by the commanding officer and the contracted Norwegian technician involved in the incident was terminated immediately, according to a presidential source.

The NATO chief also stressed that Turkey is an important ally for NATO and that he would take all necessary precautions to avoid a repeat of such an incident, hoping the scandal would not adversely affect relations between NATO and Turkey, the source said.

Stoltenberg and Norwegian Defense Minister Frank Bakke-Jensen both issued swift apologies to Turkey over the incident on Nov. 17.

Main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kılıçdaroğlu also said his party cannot accept the “insult” against Turkey’s history and today’s Turkey.

“It is not a topic that can be avoided with an ordinary ‘we apologize’ thing,” Kılıçdaroğlu said at an event in Ankara on Nov. 18.

“Nobody can insult Turkey’s [current] executives or its history. We strongly condemn this,” he added.

Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) leader Devlet Bahçeli on Nov. 18 also blasted the incident in Norway as “a disgrace that cannot be fixed or compensated.”

“Apology! What apology! Opening a debate or blaming the first president of the Republic of Turkey as well as the current president with psychological warfare tactics is evidence of open enmity,” Bahçeli said in his Twitter account.

“It is necessary for Turkey to question NATO. What does NATO want from Turkey? What is it waiting for? What does it want to achieve?” Bahçeli said.

Turkey has now reached a point of “all or nothing” with the alliance, he added.

“We were here back when there was no NATO. If we cannot stay in this structure it would not be the end of the world,” the MHP leader said.

Turkey has the second-largest army in the alliance and borders with Syria, Iraq and Iran.

The Joint Warfare Centre is a multinational NATO unit based in Stavanger, 300 kilometers (186 miles) southwest of Oslo. It is currently led by Maj. Gen. Andrzej Reudowicz of Poland. According to its website, it has a staff of 250 made up of civilians from 11 NATO member states, including Turkey.

In March, the Norwegian government angered Ankara by granting political asylum to five Turkish officers based in Norway who had refused to return home after the failed July 2016 coup attempt.


Turkey denies offering money for US extradition of Erdogan rival

November 12, 2017


© AFP/File | Did Michael Flynn discuss expelling Gulen in exchange for a secret payout?

ANKARA (AFP) – Turkey has rejected as “ludicrous” allegations that it offered several million dollars to the United States to extradite a political rival to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

US media reported that investigators in Washington are probing whether former White House national security advisor Michael Flynn discussed expelling Muslim preacher Fethullah Gulen in exchange for a secret payout.

Ankara blames Gulen’s movement for the July 15, 2016 failed coup against Erdogan, and has pressed for his extradition from the United States, where he has lived since 1999.

Gulen, who has a large Turkish following, strongly denies the charges.

“All allegations that Turkey would resort to means external to the rule of law for his extradition are utterly false, ludicrous and groundless”, Turkey’s embassy in Washington said on Twitter Saturday.

NBC News and the Wall Street Journal said Friday that US special prosecutor Robert Mueller is examining a meeting Flynn had with senior Turkish officials weeks after Donald Trump won the presidential race last year.

The meeting allegedly discussed a secret payout of up to $15 million dollars if, once in office, Flynn would engineer the deportation to Turkey of Gulen as well as help free Erdogan-linked Iranian-Turkish businessman Reza Zarrab from prison.

NBC and the Journal both cited multiple people familiar with the probe by Mueller, who is leading the investigation into whether members of Trump’s campaign colluded with Russian meddling in the election.

The Journal said it is not clear how far the proposal went and that there was no sign that any payments were made.

Lawyers for Flynn have labelled the allegations “outrageous” and “false”.

According to the two reports, the discussions included details of how Gulen could be flown secretly by private jet to the isolated Turkish prison island of Imrali.


Mueller Probes Flynn’s Role in Alleged Plan to Deliver Cleric to Turkey

November 10, 2017

Under alleged plan, ex-Trump adviser and his son were to be paid millions to forcibly remove Fethullah Gulen from U.S. and deliver him to Turkish custody

WASHINGTON—Special Counsel Robert Mueller is investigating an alleged plan involving former White House National Security Adviser Mike Flynn to forcibly remove a Muslim cleric living in the U.S. and deliver him to Turkey in return for millions of dollars, according to people familiar with the investigation.

Under the alleged proposal, Mr. Flynn and his son, Michael Flynn Jr., were to be paid as much as $15 million for delivering Fethullah Gulen to the Turkish government, according to people with knowledge of discussions Mr. Flynn had with Turkish representatives. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has pressed the U.S. to extradite him, views the cleric as a political enemy.

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Federal Bureau of Investigation agents have asked at least four individuals about a meeting in mid-December at the ‘21’ Club in New York City, where Mr. Flynn and representatives of the Turkish government discussed removing Mr. Gulen, according to people with knowledge of the FBI’s inquiries. The discussions allegedly involved the possibility of transporting Mr. Gulen on a private jet to the Turkish prison island of Imrali, according to one of the people who has spoken to the FBI.

The investigation is being handled by Mr. Mueller as part of his probe of Trump campaign advisers and Russian interference in the 2016 election, according to those familiar with the investigation.

A spokesman for Mr. Mueller declined to comment.

The people who described the alleged proposal said they didn’t attend the December meeting and didn’t have direct knowledge from Mr. Flynn or his associates about its purported details. It isn’t clear how advanced Mr. Mueller’s investigation of the alleged plan to remove Mr. Gulen is, nor is there any indication that any money changed hands, according to those familiar with the discussions and the FBI investigation.

But federal investigators’ interest in whether Mr. Flynn was pursuing potentially illegal means to forcibly deal with Mr. Gulen indicates that the former Trump adviser faces another investigation stemming from his work on behalf of Turkish government interests, both before and after the presidential election.

A lawyer for Mr. Flynn declined to comment, as did a lawyer for Mr. Flynn Jr.

Before entering the Trump administration as the president’s national security adviser, Mr. Flynn was lobbying on behalf of Turkish interests in the U.S., including on the Gulen issue. He didn’t disclose that work until March of this year, after he was forced out of the White House for misleading Vice President Mike Pence and other White House officials about conversations he had with the Russian ambassador to the U.S. Mr. Flynn served as national security adviser for just 24 days.

He is now facing military, congressional and criminal investigations into allegations that he improperly concealed his financial ties to Turkey and Russia, and into whether the ties played any role in his decisions as the president’s adviser, The Wall Street Journal has previously reported.

One person familiar with the alleged discussions about Mr. Gulen said Mr. Flynn also was prepared to use his influence in the White House to further the legal extradition of the cleric, who lives in Pennsylvania.

Turkey has pressed the U.S. to extradite Fethullah Gulen, who lives in a compound in Saylorsburg, Pa.Photo: Sasha Maslov for The Wall Street Journal

Mr. Gulen’s legal residency in the U.S. became a major irritant in American and Turkish relations during the Obama administration, and Turkish officials pressed for Mr. Gulen’s extradition so that he could face charges. Mr. Erdogan’s government has accused the cleric of masterminding a failed coup and have called him and his supporters a terrorist network. Mr. Gulen denies both accusations.

The alleged meeting in New York in December, which came after Mr. Flynn was tapped as national security adviser, was a follow-up to an earlier discussion, on Sept. 19, where Turkish officials first raised the possibility of forcibly removing Mr. Gulen. That September meeting, held in a hotel room and attended by former CIA Director James Woolsey, was reported earlier by the Journal.

In an exclusive WSJ interview, former CIA Director James Woolsey describes a meeting where Mike Flynn and others discussed a covert plan to move Fethullah Gulen back to Turkey and avoid the U.S. extradition process. (March 27, 2017)

Mr. Gulen’s removal was discussed as “a covert step in the dead of night to whisk this guy away,” according to Mr. Woolsey, who said he attended the meeting at the request of one of Mr. Flynn’s business associates.

Also present at the September meeting were Mr. Erdogan’s son-in-law and Turkey’s foreign minister, foreign-lobbying disclosure documents show. The Turkish Embassy has previously acknowledged that Turkish officials met with Mr. Flynn but declined to discuss the conversation.

A White House spokesman deferred all questions to a spokesman for the Trump transition process.

“We don’t have any evidence that such a meeting took place,” that spokesman said, referring to the December meeting. “And if it did it take place it happened not withstanding the transition.”

At the time the plan was discussed, Turkey had been lobbying Obama administration officials for months to release Mr. Gulen to Turkish custody and wanted to avoid a legal extradition proceeding, according to a former official with direct knowledge of Turkish and American discussions. The Obama administration rebuffed those requests, the official said.

In Mr. Flynn, the Turks found a more sympathetic ear. Mr. Flynn wrote an op-ed published in The Hill on the day of the presidential election in which he praised Mr. Erdogan’s government and called the cleric “a shady Islamic mullah” and “radical Islamist” who may be running “a dangerous sleeper terror network” in the U.S.

“We should not provide him safe haven,” Mr. Flynn wrote.

Mr. Woolsey said he informed the U.S. government about the September meeting by notifying Vice President Joe Biden through a mutual friend.

The mutual friend confirmed to the Journal that he told Mr. Biden about the meeting. Mr. Biden’s spokeswoman declined to comment on the matter, other than to say Mr. Biden felt the Gulen matter should be handled through the courts.

Mr. Woolsey, who served briefly as an adviser to the Trump campaign, said he turned down a consulting fee from Mr. Flynn’s company because of what he heard at the meeting.

Federal records show that the company, Flynn Intel Group, was paid $530,000 for advocacy work that “could be construed to have principally benefited the Republic of Turkey.”

Federal investigators are currently looking at whether Mr. Flynn’s work on behalf of Turkey violated the Foreign Agents Registration Act, which requires people to disclose when they are acting in the U.S. on behalf of foreign powers, according to people with knowledge of the investigation.

Mr. Trump’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, has been indicted by the special counsel on charges stemming from his work for the former government of Ukraine, which he didn’t properly disclose to U.S. authorities, according to federal charges disclosed last month. Mr. Manafort’s attorney has entered a plea of not guilty on his behalf.

The Journal reported in March that Mr. Flynn had sought immunity from investigators probing Russia’s interference in the presidential election in exchange for his testimony. Mr. Flynn’s attorney, Robert Kelner, wouldn’t comment at the time on details of his discussions involving Mr. Flynn, but said “General Flynn certainly has a story to tell, and he very much wants to tell it, should the circumstances permit.”

Mr. Flynn, who was fired in 2014 as the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, is a central figure in the sprawling special counsel investigation, which is examining whether Trump campaign or business associates coordinated with the Russian government in its efforts to steal private emails from political groups and campaigns and expose them publicly. Mr. Flynn’s contacts with the then-Russian ambassador to the U.S., Sergey Kislyak, have been scrutinized as part of that probe, according to people with knowledge of the investigation.

President Trump has denied that his campaign colluded with Russia. The Russians have consistently denied interfering in the election.

Write to Shane Harris at and Aruna Viswanatha at

Trial of Turkey opposition daily staff resumes

October 31, 2017


© AFP / by Fulya OZERKAN | Protesters are demanding ‘justice for Cumhuriyet’
ISTANBUL (AFP) – The controversial trial resumed Tuesday of staff from Turkey’s main opposition daily on terror-related charges, in a case seen as a test for media freedom under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Prosecutors accuse 17 current and former writers, cartoonists and executives from Cumhuriyet (“Republic”) of supporting terror groups, charges lambasted by the defence as absurd.

Four of the suspects remain behind bars, with the others now free but still on trial and risking heavy jail sentences if convicted.

Dozens of supporters gathered outside the court in Istanbul, unfurling banners saying: “Stop hunting the opposition and arresting journalists” and “justice for Cumhuriyet”.

The 17 are charged with supporting through their coverage three groups Turkey views as terror groups — the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), the ultra-left Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party-Front (DHKP-C), and the movement of preacher Fethullah Gulen blamed by Ankara for last year’s failed coup.

The defendants risk up to 43 years in prison if convicted.

The court in July freed seven of the daily’s staff after 271 days behind bars, including respected cartoonist Musa Kart and Turhan Gunay, editor of the books supplement.

And one of Turkey’s most respected journalists Kadri Gursel was released last month after spending nearly a year in jail.

Those remaining under arrest include the paper’s chairman Akin Atalay and editor-in-chief Murat Sabuncu, who have been held for 366 days.

– 170 journalists behind bars –

Investigative reporter Ahmet Sik, who has been held for 305 days, as well as accountant Emre Iper, detained for 208 days, also remain under arrest.

Sik wrote a book exposing the past ties of members of the Turkish elite to the Gulen movement.

According to the P24 press freedom group, there are 170 journalists behind bars in Turkey, most of whom were arrested after the coup bid. Turkey ranks 155 out of 180 on the latest Reporters Without Borders (RSF) world press freedom index.

Since last July’s coup bid, over 50,000 people have been arrested during the state of emergency over alleged Gulen links but opposition media and pro-Kurdish activists have also been caught up in the crackdown. Gulen denies any links to the coup bid.

The trial also resumed Tuesday of celebrated Turkish novelist Asli Erdogan in which she is accused of “terror propaganda” for the PKK on account of her work to the now shut down pro-Kurdish newspaper Ozgur Gundem.

Erdogan — no relation of the president — faces life in prison if convicted but was released from pre-trial detention in December last year. She is not expected to attend the hearing.

by Fulya OZERKAN

Turkey court orders local Amnesty chief to stay behind bars

October 26, 2017


© AFP/File / by Raziye AKKOC | Protesters hold a banner reading “Free rights defenders” outside the courthouse in Istanbul where rights activists went on trial on Wednesday, including the two top figures with Amnesty International in Turkey.

ANKARA (AFP) – A Turkish court in Izmir ordered the head of Amnesty International in Turkey to remain in pre-trial detention on Thursday, the rights group said, after he denied allegations of links to the Muslim cleric Ankara blames for last year’s failed coup.

Taner Kilic was detained in June over claims he was a member of the group led by US-based preacher Fethullah Gulen, who is accused of ordering the attempted overthrow of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The latest hearing in Izmir in western Turkey comes a day after Kilic also went on trial in another case along with 10 rights activists, including Amnesty’s Turkey director Idil Eser, who were detained in July on contested terror charges after holding a workshop on an island off Istanbul.

While Kilic is voluntary chairman of Amnesty’s board of directors handling administrative affairs, Eser is in charge of day-to-day business including Amnesty Turkey’s campaigns for human rights.

Eser and seven others were freed for the duration of their trial after the first hearing in Istanbul on Wednesday on charges of “aiding” an armed terror group. Two others had been released earlier.

They are accused of links to Gulen and other outlawed groups including the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has waged an insurgency inside Turkey since 1984, and the far-left Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party-Front (DHKP-C).

Amnesty said Kilic’s case in Izmir will be merged with the 10 activists’ case in Istanbul.

“The release of the Istanbul 10 late last night restored some faith in Turkey’s justice system. Today, that faith has been washed away,” Amnesty secretary-general Salil Shetty said.

Prosecutors claim Kilic was aware of preparations for the Istanbul workshop.

Erdogan said in July that the activists were detained after a tip-off they were working against the government, comparing them to those involved in the failed putsch.

– ‘No concrete evidence’ –

“There are inconcrete and unclear accusations in the indictment, and there is no concrete evidence” to prove links to Gulen, Kilic was quoted as saying in court by Amnesty Turkey’s official Twitter account.

“It is essential that there is a presumption of innocence,” he said.

“Statements by the authorities have affected my right to a fair trial.”

Kilic also accused the authorities of trying him because of his work with Amnesty, the group said.

Turkish authorities claim Kilic had an encrypted messaging application on his phone in August 2014 called Bylock, which they allege was created especially for Gulen supporters.

Thousands of people have been detained across Turkey on suspicion of using the app.

Kilic also had a bank account with the Gulen-linked Bank Asya, but Amnesty previously said it was “clearly impossible to infer membership of an organisation, let alone sympathy for its purported criminal aims, from the opening of an account”.

Amnesty said the Turkish authorities have not presented “credible evidence to substantiate” the claims that he had also downloaded ByLock.

– ‘First sign of detente’ –

The next hearing of the 11 human rights activists — including a German and a Swedish national — in Istanbul will be on November 22.

German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel welcomed the release of German activist, Peter Steudtner, in what he described as the “first sign of detente” following the bitter row between Ankara and Berlin over the arrest of Germans in Turkey.

The Swedish foreign ministry said Swede Ali Gharavi’s release was “obviously positive”.


by Raziye AKKOC