Zarrab case a test of legitimacy for American legal system

THE EDITORIAL BOARD
ISTANBUL
Published

The arrest of Reza Zarrab, an Iranian-born Turkish businessman, by the United States in March 2016 on charges of violating U.S. sanctions on Iran has strained Washington's relations with Turkey, a key NATO ally, and remains an embodiment of former U.S. President Barack Obama's disastrous legacy. To avoid losing a crucial partner in Eastern Europe and the Middle East, President Donald Trump must ensure that the anti-Turkey crusade in Washington stops without further delay.

Over the past year, the Turkish people witnessed President Trump's efforts to repair his country's troubled relationship with Turkey and to cooperate with the Turkish government on a range of pressing issues. Unfortunately, sworn enemies of the Turkish people continue to serve in the U.S. justice system, bureaucracy, military and President Trump's cabinet. Unable to think rationally, those individuals have mistakenly identified U.S. interests in an effort to deal the president a losing hand. As such, President Trump must identify and remove from positions of power Turkey's enemies within the U.S. government before any meaningful steps can be taken.

It is no secret that President Trump has been mislead by members of his administration, in particular Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, about the Zarrab case, thus he played a disruptive role in Turkey-U.S. relations. The Zarrab case, which is a political show trial par excellence, must be resolved by politicians, not jurists – provided that the case has no legal basis and the U.S. justice system has been politicized at an unprecedented level. The case against Mr. Zarrab, which is seemingly about alleged violations of U.S. sanctions on Iran, has been deliberately turned into a popularity contest about Turkey and President Erdoğan.

Under American law, illegally obtained wiretaps do not qualify as evidence. Nor can there be any tolerance for fabricated evidence. It is also legally unacceptable for prosecutors and judges to form their opinions based on materials of questionable authenticity posted on YouTube and other social media outlets.

Moreover, there are major differences between the Zarrab case and past legal actions by U.S. courts against alleged violators of U.S. sanctions on Iran and other countries. In recent years, financial institutions such as HSBC and BNP Paribas were fined for violating U.S. sanctions. Provided that no executive of either bank was arrested in the United States, it is difficult to understand why Mehmet Atilla, the deputy general manager of Halkbank, has been treated like a common criminal.

Therefore, it is no surprise that the former U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, Preet Bharara, has taken an openly anti-Turkey stance. The ties between Bharara, along with other U.S. officials involved in the Zarrab case, with known Gülenists is unsettling, to say the least, and raise questions about the impartiality of the U.S. legal system. The judge of the case, Richard Berman, was invited by Gülenists to attend a conference in Istanbul in May 8-9, 2014 and delivered a speech with a very accusative tone against Erdoğan, he then gave an interview to Today's Zaman, the now defunct Gülenist mouthpiece, and continued his accusations for Erdoğan's government. In this respect, the case that Berman is in charge of lacks impartiality and is biased.

The true face of the Gülenists, who built the same case against the Turkish government in an effort to overthrow the country's democratically-elected government back in 2013, was revealed to the rest of the world in July 2016, when Fetullah Gülen's followers murdered 250 innocent people in cold blood and injured another 2,193 over the course of their failed coup attempt.

In light of former prosecutor Bharara's public statements and the legal actions taken against Turkish citizens thus far, the Zarrab case looks more and more like "war by other means" rather than a genuine effort to deliver justice.

The Zarrab case is part of the Obama administration's legacy. If the Trump administration has America's best interests at heart, it must engage it critically. Using the members of FETÖ, who have secretly infiltrated the Turkish government, to weaken the position of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was a method preferred by Mr. Obama's administration. If there was ever any doubt that the Gülenists were doomed to fail, the Turkish people's resistance to the coup plotters on July 15 must have answered all questions. Cooperating with terrorists can only harm U.S. interests in Turkey and elsewhere.

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