PM praises chief suspect Zarrab for contribution to Turkish economy

PM praises chief suspect Zarrab for contribution to Turkish economy

Iranian businessman Reza Zarrab (Photo: Today's Zaman, Kürşat Bayhan)

December 25, 2013, Wednesday/ 18:14:00

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has praised Iranian businessman Reza Zarrab -- who stands accused of being the ringleader of a shady money-laundering and gold-smuggling ring set up to dodge sanctions against Iran -- for his contribution to the country's economy and charity events.

“Zarrab exports gold and I know that he is involved in charity activities as well,” Erdoğan said in address to reporters aboard on his plan during his return from Pakistan.

Erdoğan said that if there were evidence against Zarrab, then why not catch him in the act and get video footage?

Zarrab, an Iranian businessman of Azerbaijani origin who lives in Turkey and who is currently under arrest as part of a major investigation into alleged bribery linked to public tenders and money laundering, faces various accusations. 

Among others, he is also accused of financing the Justice and Development Party's (AK Party) surveys, the Taraf daily claimed on Tuesday.

Additionally, Economy Minister Zafer Çağlayan accepted a valuable watch worth 300,000 Swiss francs (TL 700,000) as a bribe from Zarrab, according to phone records acquired by Today's Zaman..

According to recorded conversations, Çağlayan wanted Zarrab to buy a Patek Philippe 5101G watch that Çağlayan had admired during one of his visits to Geneva, Switzerland. Zarrab allegedly sent one of his employees to Geneva to buy the watch and had it delivered it to Onur Kaya, Çağlayan's personal assistant at 1:25 a.m. on Sept. 25, 2013.

Fifty-two people, including bureaucrats, well-known businesspeople and the sons of three ministers, were detained on Dec. 17 in a corruption investigation that has shaken Turkey's political and business elite and pushed three ministers to resign on Wednesday. Zarrab is alleged to have bribed three ministers and their sons a total of TL 137 million ($66 million) to help him disguise money laundering operations. Halkbank and its general manager, Süleyman Aslan, also under arrest, were involved in Turkey's gold trade with Iran.

“Is there any evidence that proves the relationship between what has been found in the [Halkbank general] manager's house and the bank? I have no doubt that he [Aslan] is innocent.”

Erdoğan went on to deny the allegations of corruption and called the investigation an attack on the government, society and the “national will.”

When asked if the probe was a bid to tarnish his reputation, the prime minister said anyone attempting such a thing would fail.

Graft probe came after Gezi protests

Erdoğan blamed the probe on the same “silent resistance” that he said was behind the demonstrations against the government in the Gezi Park movement over the summer.

“It is sad to see that some are acting as subcontractors in this probe, which has been going on since the Gezi protests. We have patience now and will always have it,” Erdoğan said.

In his previous speeches, Erdoğan has suggested that the operation is part of a “psychological war” against the government.

“We have seen those who portrayed themselves as brothers speaking curses,” the prime minister said, referring to the Hizmet movement led by Turkish Islamic scholar Fetullah Gülen.

The influential scholar spoke the first curse of his life on Saturday in comments that many interpreted as an attack on the ruling party.

"Those who don't see the thief but go after those trying to catch the thief, who don't see the murder but try to defame others by accusing innocent people -- let God bring fire to their houses, ruin their homes, break their unities," Gülen said in a video recording uploaded to herkul.org, a website that usually publishes his speeches.

Gülen first recalled his earlier teachings and said that he had always emphasized that individual crimes should not be made public and that Muslims should keep the misdeeds of others “secret.” He added that the important part of respecting human beings is embracing them wholeheartedly and treating them as “you would treat your own child.”

He said that a Muslim should behave according to the teachings of Quran and the Prophet Muhammad regardless of how others behave. “In this framework, being occupied with someone else's flaws is absolutely not a right thing,” Gülen added.

Gülen said there is an “asymmetrical assault” on the Hizmet movement and urged members of the movement to stand firm and trust in God.

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