Life sentence sought for Turkish employee of US Consulate charged with espionage

Ankara accuses Metin Topuz, jailed since 2017, of helping police officers organize an attempted coup in 2013

The consular services' office of the United States consulate remains closed, in Istanbul, October 9, 2017. (AP Photo/Neyran Elden)
The consular services' office of the United States consulate remains closed, in Istanbul, October 9, 2017. (AP Photo/Neyran Elden)

ISTANBUL — Turkish prosecutors are seeking a life sentence for a local employee of the United States consulate in Istanbul accused of attempting to overthrow the government and espionage.

A 78-page indictment against Turkish national Metin Topuz, jailed since October 2017, said Topuz was in “very intense contact” with police officers who led a 2013 anti-corruption investigation that implicated top government officials.

The Turkish government accused US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen for attempting a coup with that investigation and labeled his network a terror group. Gulen is also blamed for a 2016 failed coup but he denies the accusations.

A judge will decide whether the case will proceed to trial.

Topuz’s arrest led to tension in US-Turkey relations and to the suspension of bilateral visa services for more than two months.

The crisis triggered by the arrest saw accusations the US embassy in Ankara, which said at the time that the charges against Topuz were “wholly without merit.”

US authorities then sought assurances from top Turkish officials that no further staff members would be placed under investigation.

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan delivers a speech to MPs of his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) at the parliament in Ankara, Turkey, November 20, 2018. (Burhan Ozbilici/AP)

But Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had said it was Turkey’s right to take steps against “an internal threat.”

The US suspended considering visa applications saying it wanted to reassess Turkey’s commitment to the safety of US personnel. Turkey retaliated by halting visas services in the US.

Ties between the two NATO allies were already strained over Gulen’s presence in the United States and Washington’s support for Syrian Kurdish militia, whom Turkey considers to be terrorists because of their links to Kurdish militants fighting Turkey. Separate indictments in the US against Erdogan’s bodyguards who were embroiled in violence and against the banker and a former Turkish economy minister accused of conspiring to violate US sanctions had deepened the rift.

State-run Anadolu Agency said in 2017 that Topuz had allegedly communicated with former police chiefs in a 2013 corruption probe — which the government claims was instigated by Gulen’s supporters — and with other officers allegedly involved in the attempted coup. Gulen denies involvement in the coup attempt.

The US ambassador at the time said it was part of Topuz’s duty to be in contact with police officers.

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