According to a report appeared on the pro-government Yenişafak daily, the US Ambassador Francis Ricciardone told EU ambassadors in Ankara in a meeting on Dec. 17, the beginning of the graft probe, that the US had asked Turkey to cut Halkbank’s financial ties with Iran.
“We requested end of financial ties of Halkbank with Iran. But they didn’t listen. You are watching collapse of an empire [Turkey],” said Ricciardone, according to the Yenişafak report, regarding the ongoing investigation into alleged bribery and tender rigging.
Speaking at a rally in northern province of Samsun on Saturday, Erdoğan again struck a defiant tone, adamantly rejected any wrongdoing, deeming the corruption case as an international plot to weaken Turkey’s growing economic and diplomatic clout, and topple the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government.
“These recent days, very strangely, ambassadors get involved in some provocative acts. I am calling on them from here, do your job, if you leave your area of duty, this could extend into our government’s area of jurisdiction. We do not have to keep you [Ricciardone] in our country,” Erdogan told supporters in the Black Sea province of Samsun, implying to expel US ambassador.
The US Embassy to Turkey has denied any role in the investigation. “All allegations in news stories are downright lies and slander,” it said in a statement.
The statement said massive corruption probe in Turkey has nothing to do with the United States, denying reports appeared in pro-government dailies. He warned that nobody should put Turkish-US ties at jeopardy with such false claims.
Erdoğan’s remarks would likely to fuel tension between two allies amid ongoing corruption investigation.
Two sons of Turkish ministers and an Iranian-Azerbaijani businessman Reza Zerrab are among 24 suspects arrested as part of an investigation into a bribery and fraud ring that has rocked Turkey since Tuesday.
Son of Economy Minister Zafer Çağlayan, Kaan Çağlayan, and son of Interior Minister, Barış Güler, as well as Halkbank General Director Süleyman Aslan and Zerrab are among 16 people arrested early on Friday. Eight people were arrested late on Thursday.
On Thursday, 49 suspects, including Fatih district mayor Mustafa Demir and Güler, were referred to court for arrest.
The suspects are accused of rigging state tenders, accepting and facilitating the payment of bribes for major urbanization projects, obtaining construction permits for protected areas in exchange for money, helping foreigners obtain Turkish citizenship with falsified documentation, involvement in export fraud, forging documents and smuggling gold. There are also claims that the suspects illegally sold historical artifacts that were unearthed during excavations for the Marmaray underwater rail project that connects Europe and Asia.