Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdogan Is a Criminal. Our Foreign Policy Should Treat Him as Such

Examiner (Washington, D.C.), The, November 3, 2017 | Go to article overview

Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdogan Is a Criminal. Our Foreign Policy Should Treat Him as Such


Earlier this year, former Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega died quietly in Panama City ending a life marked by fantastic highs and lows. Noriega was Panamanian military officer and CIA informant who let greed get the best of him. He cast his lot with Colombian drug lords flooding their cocaine into the United States. The George H.W. Bush administration had enough of their former partner and client and ordered an invasion of Panama to snatch Noriega. He surrendered after two weeks, stood trial in the United States, and served 17 years of a 30-year sentence before being released for good behavior.

Meanwhile, over the years, many analysts and authors have drawn analogies between Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan and various world leaders: Does Erdogan seek to become a Khomeini-like figure over his own Islamic Republic (never mind that Turkey is largely Sunni rather than Shi'ite like neighboring Iran)? Or is he just after power and wealth, like Russian leader Vladimir Putin? Or is he motivated by personal animus toward his political adversaries like the late Hugo Chavez in Venezuela?

The reality is that Erdogan is his own man and has carved his own unique path as he has upended Turkey's democracy, even as he seems to have incorporated lessons from or modeled himself after all three at various times.

Increasingly, however, it appears that Noriega may be a better analogy for Erdogan, as the Reza Zarrab case proceeds through court.

Reza Zarrab, of course, was a former business associate of Erdogan arrested on March 19, 2016, by the FBI upon arrival at Miami International Airport. The Department of Justice charged Zarrab with money laundering, bank fraud, and generally working to help Iran evade U.S. sanctions.

As the case has proceeded, more Turkish officials have come under the spotlight. On September 6, 2017, the Justice Department charged Turkey's former Minister of Economy and the general manager of a Turkish state-owned bank. On October 30, 2017, the Justice Department filed new papers in the U.S. District Court, southern district of New York, in the case of Zarrab and his business partners. What is significant in the latest indictment is how Erdogan is mentioned. On page 17, for example, it reads:

The evidence also includes documents and communications concerning Zarrab's efforts to develop a relationship with then Prime Minister Erdogan to garner support and protection for his business. For example, Zarrab and Erdogan both attended the April 12, 2013, wedding of another [then-Minister of the Economy Zafer] Caglayan relative, where Zarrab spoke with Erdogan. Zarrab and [then Halk Bank General Manager Suleyman] Aslan exchanged electronic communications discussing this meeting. Thereafter, in a recorded call on April 16, 2013, Zarrab described more about his discussion with Erdogan. In response to Aslan's inquiry about the progress of Zarrab's efforts to buy a bank (as discussed with Iranian officials, in order to establish a conduit for transactions for Iran), Zarrab responded, "I thought about it until I begged the twenty-four prophets, but they say to only beg of God. I went to the Prime Minister ... I went to him and talked about the thing I was going to do and I explained it that day at the wedding. I will go back and will say, Mr. Prime Minister, if you approve, give me a license, I will go though BDDK [the Turkish bank regulator] even if I bought the bank anyway. …

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