At the centre of the increasingly bitter dispute between the United States and Turkey is a demand by an irate President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan that American prosecutors free a Turkish-Iranian gold dealer who is about to go on trial on money-laundering and fraud charges, said David Ignatius in his Washington Post column on Oct. 12.
Stating that "Erdoğan’s campaign to free Zarrab has been extraordinary," Ignatius wrote that "He [Erdoğan] demanded his release as well as the firing of Bharara in a private meeting with then-Vice President Joe Biden on Sept. 21, 2016, in which U.S. officials say half the 90-minute conversation was devoted to Zarrab. Erdoğan’s wife [Emine Erdoğan] pleaded the case that night to Jill Biden. Turkey's then-justice minister, Bekir Bozdağ, visited then-Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch in October (2016) to argue that the case was 'based on no evidence' and that Zarrab should be released."
Zarrab, an Iranian-Turkish tycoon, was arrested by U.S. authorities in Miami in March 2016 on charges of helping Iran process millions of dollars of transactions when it was under US sanctions for its nuclear program.
The case threatens to reopen a case that reached right into Erdoğan’s inner circle. It will also deepen existing tensions between Turkey and the United States. Zarrab was detained and charged in İstanbul in 2013 in a huge corruption case. All charges against Zarrab and those linked to Erdoğan's government were dropped.
Ignatius wrote that a former senior Obama official told him that: "Our operating assumption was that Erdoğan’s obsession with the case was that if it moved forward, information would come out that would damage his family, and ultimately him."
"The confrontation sharpened Thursday, as Erdoğan protested in Ankara that the businessman, Reza Zarrab, was being squeezed as a 'false witness' about corruption. Turkey alarmed Washington by arresting a U.S. consular official last week, in what some U.S. officials feared was an attempt to gain leverage for Zarrab’s release before the scheduled Nov. 27 start of his trial in New York. Turkish and American officials plan to meet next week for talks to ease tensions," Ignatius underlined.
Despite these various attempts to halt the prosecution, the case rolled forward — and even broadened in an expanded indictment last month that named a former Turkish cabinet minister and three other prominent Turks."