The top U.S. prosecutor in a high-profile Iran sanctions case has denied charges from top Turkish officials that the case is "fabricated" and "politically motivated," calling those allegations "ridiculous."
"Frankly, it displays a fundamental misunderstanding of how our justice system works," acting U.S. Attorney Joon H. Kim said at a news conference in New York on November 21, speaking of his case charging Turkish-Iranian businessman Reza Zarrab and high-level former Turkish officials with helping Iran evade U.S. sanctions.
"The defendants are charged with serious crimes... That's why the case is being brought, and that's the only reason," Kim said.
The judge overseeing the case, U.S. District Judge Richard M. Berman, said on November 21 that Turkey's government should provide evidence if it believes the defendants are being unfairly prosecuted, rather than hurling criticism at prosecutors.
"The best way for them to be helpful is to help defense counsel by providing in court any evidence or witnesses they are aware of that could assist the defense," Berman said.
The judge and prosecutor were responding to accusations from Turkey's foreign minister on November 17 that the case is "politically motivated," and based on "fabricated" evidence from a case against Zarrab that Turkey dropped in 2013.
Turkey's Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag also charged that the case is "political" in remarks in Istanbul on November 20, adding that Ankara views the defendants as "hostages," and sees the case as "a clear plot against Turkey."
"It is very clear that this aims at harming Turkey’s economic relations with Iran, its relations with Russia, and its economic relations with other countries," Bozdag said.
Turkey has complained that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his ministers are mentioned in the court documents in the case, although only one former Turkish economic minister has been charged.
Turkey's protests have increased amid U.S. news reports saying that Zarrab may be cooperating with U.S. prosecutors to develop a money laundering case that possibly involves Turkish officials.
Zarrab has failed to show up at several recent pre-trial hearings in the U.S. District Court in Manhattan, prompting speculation that he may be cutting a deal with prosecutors.
Jury selection for his trial was due to start on November 20, but was postponed for a week until November 27.
Because of the case's possible implications for the Turkish government and U.S.-Turkish relations, it is now being closely watched by financial markets.
On November 21, the Turkish lira hit a record low against the U.S. dollar after the postponement of jury selection was announced.
The case has also depressed the stocks of banks that could be hit by the allegation that the defendants worked with Ankara and Tehran to help Iran evade U.S. sanctions that prohibit it from using U.S. dollars or U.S. financial institutions to conduct trade.
With reporting by AP, Reuters, dpa, and AFP