Dear @StateDept, What Are You Going to Do About Metin Topuz’s Imprisonment Besides Being “Deeply Troubled?”

 

The United States can do a lot more than simply express being “deeply troubled” or its “deep disappointment.” The question is will it do more? How much is it willing to do when it comes to Metin Topuz, a Turkish citizen employee who worked at the U.S. Consulate General in Istanbul prior to his arrest?
The State Department has 50,059 locally employed staff at 275 posts in 195 countries.
In August 2018, the Treasury Department targeted Turkish Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gul and Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu with financial sanctions over the country’s refusal to release Andrew Brunson, a Christian pastor who had been imprisoned by the Turkish government on charges of terrorism and espionage. In October 2018, Brunson was convicted, by Turkish authorities, on the charge of aiding terrorism, but was released from Turkish custody and returned to the United States.

 

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The Giant Halkbank Octopus: New Episodes Coming Soon!

 

From our old post in 2017: Erdogan Rages Against the U.S. Ambassador to Ankara — What’s That About?

On March 19, 2016, Reza Zarrab an Iranian-Turkish citizen was arrested for allegedly engaging in hundreds of millions of dollars of transactions on behalf of the Government of Iran and Iranian entities as part of a scheme to evade U.S. sanctions (Download u.s._v._zarab_et_al_indictment.pdf).

On March 28, 2017, Mehmet Hakan Atilla, a Turkish banker was also arrested and charged for alleged conspiracies to violate the IEEPA and to commit bank fraud (Download US v. Mehmet Hakan Atilla complaint.pdf).

On September 6, 2017 DOJ announced the Superseding Indictment alleging that nine defendants (including a former Turkish Minister of the Economy (currently serving in Turkish Parliament), and a former General Manager Of Turkish Government-Owned Bank), “conspired to lie to U.S. Government officials about international financial transactions for the Government of Iran and used the U.S. financial system to launder bribes paid to conceal the scheme.”

In November 2017, NBC News also reported that Zarrab began cooperating with federal prosecutors in a money-laundering case.
According to avhal, the Turkish banker, Hakan Atilla served 32 months in prison in the United States for helping Iran evade U.S. sanctions, and was released on July 19 this year. On October 21, 2019, Turkey’s Finance and Treasury Minister Berat Albayrak (and Erdogan’s son-in-law) announced that the former Halkbank director has been appointed as the director general of Borsa Istanbul, Turkey’s main stock exchange.
On October 15, USDOJ announced that TÜRKİYE HALK BANKASI A.S., a/k/a “Halkbank,” was charged in a six-count Indictment with fraud, money laundering, and sanctions offenses related to the bank’s participation in a multibillion-dollar scheme to evade U.S. sanctions on Iran.
On October 24, Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon announced that he is launching an investigation into the Halkbank scandal.
Courthouse News Service Adam Klasfeld who has covered this case extensively notes in his October 22 report that “Turkey continued to hold three U.S. consulate workers in captivity with relative silence from the White House, and Halkbank kept an indictment at bay for more than two years, even after its ex-general manager Suleyman Aslan and executive Atilla had been charged with the multibillion-dollar conspiracy.”
Back in 2017, we thought this thriller which started out actually in 2013  (see the New Yorker’s Dexter Filkins piece, A Mysterious Case Involving Turkey, Iran, and Rudy Giuliani) — with a cargo plane from Accra, Ghana, which was diverted to Istanbul’s main international airport, because of fog, and three thousand pounds of gold bars — was going to unravel under the glare of sunlight, but here we are in 2019.  So now we wait for the next episodes.

Related posts:

Swearings-In: Satterfield (Turkey), Landau (Mexico), Blanchard (Slovenia)

 

U.S. Ambassador to Turkey

U.S. Ambassador to Mexico

U.S. Ambassador to Slovenia

Trump to Nominate Career Diplomat David Satterfield to be U.S. Ambassador to Turkey

Posted: 6:59 pm EST

 

On February 15, the WH announced the President’s intent to nominate David Michael Satterfield of Missouri, to be a Career Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Turkey. The WH released the following brief bio:

Ambassador Satterfield, a career member of the senior Foreign Service, class of Career Minister, has been the Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs since 2017.  Previously, Ambassador Satterfield served as the Director General of the Multinational Force and Observers in Rome, Italy, from 2014 to 2017 and 2009 to 2013.  In 2014, Ambassador Satterfield was special advisor to the Secretary of State for Libya, based in Tripoli, Libya, and served as Charge d’Affaires at the United States Embassy in Cairo, Egypt, from 2013 to 2014.  He served as Deputy Chief of Mission in Baghdad, Iraq, from 2005 to 2006, and as the United States Ambassador to Lebanon from 1998 to 2001.  Ambassador Satterfield served at the United States embassies in Syria and Saudi Arabia as well as other senior assignments, including Deputy Assistant Secretary, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary, and Acting Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs from 2001 to 2005.  Ambassador Satterfield is the recipient of the Presidential Distinguished Executive Rank Award, the Secretary of State’s Distinguished Service Award, and the United States Department of the Army Outstanding Civilian Service Award.  He earned a B.A. from the University of Maryland.  Ambassador Satterfield speaks Arabic, French, and Italian.

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If confirmed, Ambassador Satterfield would succeed John R. Bass (1964–) who served as chief of mission in Turkey from October 2014–October 2017. Previous appointees to this post includes Francis Joseph Ricciardone (1952–);Morton Isaac Abramowitz (1933–)Marc Isaiah Grossman (1951–)Ronald Ian Spiers (1925–); and James Franklin Jeffrey (1946–), who is now dual-hatted as Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and as United States Special Representative for Syria Engagement.

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Tillerson Meets Erdoğan in Ankara With Turkish Foreign Minister as Interpreter

Posted: 12:35 am ET

 

AND NOW THIS, from people paying attention:

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U.S.-Turkey Announce Reciprocal Resumption of Visa Services, Then Turkey Throws U.S. Accusation

Posted: 1:39 am ET
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Erdogan Rages Against the U.S. Ambassador to Ankara — What’s That About?

Posted: 2:20 am ET
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Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım recently criticized the suspension of visa services in Turkey by the United States. The Daily Sabah quotes Yıldırım saying“There is rule of law in Turkey and if someone from the U.S. diplomatic mission commits a crime he/she will not have any privileges [to avoid prosecution].” Apparently he also added that U.S. authorities never asked for Turkey’s permission when the United States arrested Halkbank deputy general manager, Mehmet Hakan Atilla.

On Thursday, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan blamed the outgoing U.S. Ambassador to Ankara John Bass for the visa row, and said: “It is unacceptable for the United States to sacrifice a strategic partner to an ambassador who doesn’t know his place.” He also said that Turkey does not see Ambassador Bass as a representative of the United States.

In the spirit of reciprocity, how long before the State Department declares that the U.S. no longer sees Ambassador Serdar Kılıç as a representative of the Government of Turkey in Washington, D.C.?

RTE must be smart enough to recognize that American ambassadors, particularly career ambassadors like Ambassador Bass do not freelance. And still he rails.

Of related note — on March 19, 2016, Reza Zarrab an Iranian-Turkish citizen was arrested for allegedly engaging in hundreds of millions of dollars of transactions on behalf of the Government of Iran and Iranian entities as part of a scheme to evade U.S. sanctions (Download u.s._v._zarab_et_al_indictment.pdf).

On March 28, 2017, Mehmet Hakan Atilla, a Turkish banker was also arrested and charged for alleged conspiracies to violate the IEEPA and to commit bank fraud (Download US v. Mehmet Hakan Atilla complaint.pdf).

On September 6, DOJ announced the Superseding Indictment alleging that nine defendants (including a former Turkish Minister of the Economy (currently serving in Turkish Parliament), and a former General Manager Of Turkish Government-Owned Bank), “conspired to lie to U.S. Government officials about international financial transactions for the Government of Iran and used the U.S. financial system to launder bribes paid to conceal the scheme.”

The scheme functioned largely by using the Turkish government-owned bank (“Turkish Bank-1”) at which ASLAN was the General Manager, ATILLA was the Deputy General Manager of International Banking, and BALKAN was an Assistant Deputy Manager for International Banking, to engage in transactions that violated U.S. sanctions against Iran. The defendants used Turkish Bank-1 to facilitate REZA ZARRAB’s ability to use his network of companies to supply currency and gold to the Government of Iran, Iranian entities, and SDNs using Turkish Bank-1, while concealing Turkish Bank-1’s role in the violation of U.S. sanctions from regulators.

This is an interesting thriller that we should hear more about starting next month when the hearing starts in New York.  This story started like a movie; according to the New Yorker’s Dexter Filkins piece — with a cargo plane from Accra, Ghana, which was diverted to Istanbul’s main international airport, because of fog, and three thousand pounds of gold bars.

Here is the superseding indictment in USA vs. Zarrab, et.al.

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Related posts:

U.S. Mission Turkey Representatives, Lawyer Not Allowed to See Jailed Turkish Employee

Posted: 4:15 am ET
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We recently blogged about the arrest of U.S. Mission Turkey’s local employee in Istanbul (see Turkey Arrests U.S.Consulate General Istanbul Local Employee Metin Topuz on “Terror Charges”U.S. Mission Turkey Suspends All Non-Immigrant Visa Services Over Latest Arrest of Local Employee

Note that there are no cancellation of visas, and this is not a visa ban, but this is clearly, a specific action taken by the U.S. Government over the Turkish Government’s treatment of U.S. Mission employees in Turkey.

The U.S. Ambassador to Turkey John Bass released a fuller statement on the suspension of visa services (see below). Ambassador Bass notes that this is the second arrest of a Turkish staff member of U.S. Mission Turkey. Both employees arrested have worked for the U.S. Government at U.S. Mission Turkey for over 30 years.

Last week, for the second time this year, a Turkish staff member of our diplomatic mission was arrested by Turkish authorities.  Despite our best efforts to learn the reasons for this arrest, we have been unable to determine why it occurred or what, if any, evidence exists against the employee.  The employee works in an office devoted to strengthening law enforcement cooperation with Turkish authorities and ensuring the security of Americans and Turkish citizens.  Furthermore our colleague has not been allowed sufficient access to his attorney.

Ambassador Bass also points out that the local employee was doing his job for the diplomatic post:

Let me be clear: strengthening law enforcement cooperation between the United States and Turkey was the employee’s job.  Speaking to and traveling with Turkish police was a part of his regular duties and the Turkish government has not shared any information to indicate the employee was involved in any illegal activity.  

We understand that the U.S. Government has provided attorneys for the jailed employee in Adana, as well as the jailed employee in Istanbul but access has been problematic. A source speaking on background confirmed to us that the U.S. Government has asked for the release of these employees and that the Government of Turkey’s response has been “we’ll look into it.”  The U.S. Government has also requested to see Metin Bey in Istanbul but was not allowed to see him.

Under Turkey’s “state of emergency”, U.S. Mission employees do not have proper access to counsel and they aren’t informed of charges or evidence against them. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan first announced that Turkey will be placed under a “state of emergency” for three months, in response to the failed coup in mid 2016. Al Jazeera notes that Turkey’s last “state of emergency” was imposed in the country’s southeast region for the fight against Kurdish armed groups in 1987 and only lifted in 2002. It also points out that “under a state of emergency in Turkey, the president can largely rule by decree.”  On October 6, the Council of Europe has called on Turkey to ease post-coup state of emergency laws that have seen thousands arrested and to restore power to regional authorities.

Turkey Seeking a Third Employee?

In related news, Turkey’s Anadolu Agency reported on Monday that an “unnamed U.S. Consulate employee has been summoned to testify as a suspect” citing the Chief Prosecutor’s Office” in Istanbul: “An employee at the U.S. Consulate Istanbul, N.M.C., who does not have diplomatic immunity, has been summoned to our chief public prosecutor’s office [in Istanbul] for his testimony.” According to the report, the statement released also says that the employee’s “child and wife have been detained on terror charges in Amasya, a city in the Black Sea region.” Elsewhere, local media reports also say that this unnamed employee has not left the Consulate.

Despite wide reporting concerning this third employee, the Government of Turkey has apparently told the U.S. Government that there is no warrant (yet) for the third employee. A source familiar with the matter told us that it is not true that the employee has not left the Consulate or that he is staying at the Consulate.

But let that sink in. They’re holding the employee’s wife and child on terror charges. What’s to keep the Turkish Government from holding as hostages the family members of any or all local employees in Turkey, so those employees would voluntarily surrender without charges, without lawyers, just to keep their families safe?

Dual Turk-American Citizens

There are also multiple Americans jailed in Turkey after the failed coup attempt (see Americans Jailed After Failed Coup in Turkey Are Hostages to Politics): We understand that American Consular Officers have been given access to Americans in jail but not if the individuals are dual nationals. Apparently, the Government of Turkey has told the U.S. Government that if the jailed individuals are dual Turk-Americans, that the United States has no right to see them.

Okay — So Why the Why?

Folks are not sure if Turkey is playing hardball because of Fethullah Gulen (based in the U.S.), accused by Ankara of masterminding the July 15 coup attempt,  or because of Reza Zharab, an Iranian-Turkish citizen arrested for conspiring to evade U.S. sanctions against Iran, money laundering, and bank fraud, a case that allegedly implicates certain officials including a former Turkish Minister of  the Economy, and a former general manager of a Turkish Government-owned bank. It’s worth noting that the Zharab case has expanded to include nine defendants, and is scheduled to begin trial on October 30 before Judge Berman in the Southern District of New York. The prosecution of the Zharab/Zarrab case is being handled by the Southern District of New York’s Terrorism and International Narcotics Unit. Yo! And that Consulate employee Turkey arrested in Istanbul works for the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

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U.S. Mission Turkey Suspends All Non-Immigrant Visa Services Over Latest Arrest of Local Employee

Posted: 2:01 am ET
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On October 8, the U.S. Embassy in Ankara announced the suspension of all temporary visa services for the embassy and consulates in Turkey. The statement says that “recent events have forced the United States Government to reassess the commitment of the Government of Turkey to the security of U.S. Mission facilities and personnel.” This development follows the arrest of U.S. Consulate General’s Metin Topuz, a locally hired employee in Istanbul this past week (see Turkey Arrests U.S.Consulate General Istanbul Local Employee Metin Topuz on “Terror Charges”). There was also the prior arrest of the U.S. Consulate Adana local employee Hamza Uluçay, arrested in March on charges of “being a member of a terror organization” and who remains in jail to this day.

Hamza Uluçay has worked for the U.S. Consulate in Adana for 36 years, and according to Hurriyet Daily News was arrested as he left the consulate building for “allegedly attempting to direct the public to provocative activities in the southeastern province of Mardin.” Back in March, Hamsa Bey was reportedly referred to a local court in Mardin’s Kızıltepe district but he was later released on probation. The prosecutor objected to the release and he was detained for the second time on charges of “being a member of a terror organization.”  According to Hurriyet, the searches at Hamsa Bey’s residence includes seizure of $21 U.S. dollars with B, C, D, F, G, K and L series on them.

An AP report in April 2016 previously notes that Turkish  authorities are citing U.S. banknotes, specifically $1 bills as evidence that people are followers of Fethullah Gulen, a U.S.-based Muslim cleric whom Turkey accuses of orchestrating the coup. Turkish Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag reportedly told the A Haber television channel, “There is no doubt that this $1 bill has some important function within the Gulenist terror organization.” The AP report citing the Aksam daily, says that one theory is that F designates a high-ranking soldier or police chief; J and C represent low-ranking soldiers; E and S are for instructors and academics in Gulenist schools and B is for students.

In July,  Henri J. Barket wrote about Hamsa Bey in The Atlantic’s Erdogan’s Anti-Westernism Picks Up Speed:

One particularly absurd case is that of Hamza Uluçay, a 37-year employee of the U.S. consulate in Adana, who was picked up on “terrorism” charges. He is a foreign service national, a local hire who helps U.S. diplomats arrange meetings and navigate the local political and social scene. I have known Hamza for 25 years—I first met him in the 1990s in Adana during a research trip. When I saw him last in March 2016, I joked with him that he ought to never retire because Consulate Adana, notwithstanding his American colleagues, could not function without him. These audacious charges amount to nothing less than sticking a thumb in America’s eye.

Local employees including those in small posts like Adana provide not only bridges with local host country nationals and officials, they also provide continuity for posts so our diplomats are able to do their jobs. The U.S. Consulate in Adana covers a consular district that encompasses 22 provinces, including Turkey’s borders with Syria, Iraq and Iran. Its district includes the major cities of Mersin, Gaziantep, Şanlıurfa, Diyarbakır, and Van that have large Kurdish population. One diplomat told us that “Hamza Bey in Adana is one of our finest.” Local employees do not freelance, or go rogue; the calls and contacts they make in their own countries are connected to their jobs, and are done on behalf of their American supervisors, and consequently, on behalf of the United States. Unlike American diplomats who have diplomatic and consular immunity (PDF), local employees do not have such privileges and immunities.

The second, and latest local employee arrested by Turkish authorities is Metin Topuz “on charges of espionage and links to FETÖ, the group blamed for the July 15, 2016 coup attempt that killed 249 people in Turkey.” According to the Daily Sabah, a Turkish pro-government daily, the indictment for Metin Bey includes “contact with a number of police chiefs in Istanbul where he worked” and all those police chiefs involved in the 2013 coup attempts were FETÖ members in the judiciary and law enforcement.” The indictment reportedly also charged that he is a liaison between members of FETÖ and its leader, Fetullah Gülen, who lives in Pennsylvania.”

The Daily Sabah previously reported this arrest as “US consulate linked to another alleged FETÖ conspiracy.” The newspaper citing a report by the Akşam newspaper says that “M.T. assisted FETÖ-linked police chiefs in handing over documents regarding the 2013 police operations to Preet Bharara, a former New York attorney who conducted an investigation into Reza Zarrab, an Iranian-Turkish national who is being held in the U.S. three years after being included in a 2013 probe involving people close to the government in Turkey.”

We understand that Metin Bey works for the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in Istanbul. Contacts with members of the local judiciary or law enforcement would certainly be part of his job, a fact lost on the Government of Turkey.  Turkey watchers notice that government-affiliated press is ramping things up. U.S. Mission Turkey’s October 5 made reference to leaks, and an attempt to try Metin Bey in the media rather than in the court of law.

It is probably not an accident that the local employees arrested are long-term employees of the U.S. Mission in Turkey. The question is if this is now open season for all Turkish nationals working for the United States in Turkey. If the Turkish Government can go after employees at the U.S. consulates, how long before they’re going to go after the Turkish nationals working for the U.S. Military in Turkey?

According to turkeypurge.com which monitors President Erdogan’s purges since July 15, 2016, our NATO-ally Turkey has now arrested over 60,000 individuals, detained over 127,000 people, arrested over 300 journalists, shut down 187 media outlets, and sacked over 146,000 state officials, teachers, bureaucrats, and academics who were dismissed by government decrees.

And now this — Turkey’s MFA copy/pasted the official USG statement, and has now issued a reciprocal suspension of visa services at all Turkish diplomatic facilities in the United States. It addition to its embassy, Turkey has seven consulates in the U.S.: Boston, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, and San Francisco.

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Turkey Arrests U.S.Consulate General Istanbul Local Employee Metin Topuz on “Terror Charges”

Posted: 5:10 am ET
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