World News

Erdogan: Turkey can't be tried by US 'virtual courts'

Posted December 3, 2017 10:10 a.m. EST

— Turkey cannot be tried by "virtual courts" in the United States, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said, a thinly-veiled response to the testimony of a gold trader with ties to the Turkish government who said Erdogan played a role in a scheme to help Iran avoid US and UN sanctions.

Erdogan's comments came in a televised speech to members of his AK Party Saturday, on the heels of Reza Zarrab's Thursday testimony in US federal court in New York.

Zarrab, an Iranian-Turkish gold trader, claimed Erdogan was linked to a scheme to help Iran avoid US sanctions by laundering Iranian funds from oil and gas sales through Turkish banks. It was the first time Erdogan had been implicated in the US criminal case over Iran's violations of international sanctions.

Zarrab pleaded guilty last month to bank fraud and money laundering, and admitted to running the international scheme. He's now testifying against a Turkish banker on trial.

During a televised speech to members of his AK party on Saturday, Erdogan said "virtual courts" in the United States had no jurisdiction over Turkey.

Erdogan went on to accuse the US courts of being made-up of "lousy FETO (Fethullah Terrorist Organization) representatives," a reference to Fethullah Gulen -- a Muslim cleric living in Pennsylvania after he went into a self-imposed exile in 1999 -- and his supporters.

Erdogan has previously claimed Gulen, who has loyal followers in Turkey, was the architect of last year's attempted coup. Gulen has denied any involvement.

On Friday, Turkish law enforcement moved to seize assets belonging to Zarrab, who is under investigation by the country's Terror and Organized Crime Bureau of the Istanbul Public Prosecutor's Office, according to state-run Anadolu News Agency.

Speaking Sunday at an AK Party congress, without naming the United States or Zarrab, Erdogan said Turkey did not violate the UN's sanctions on Iran.

"What did we do? We purchased natural gas from a country within our agreement so that our citizens will not get cold in the winter and the economy will keep running," he said, adding Turkey "strictly" adhered to the sanctions.

"Sorry, but we will not bend our knees over this blackmail," Erdogan said.