A Turkish court on Thursday convicted a local U.S. Consulate employee in Istanbul of aiding an armed terror organization and sentenced him to eight years and nine months in prison, the state-run Anadolu news agency reported.
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Metin Topuz, a translator and assistant for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, has been jailed since 2017, accused of links to U.S.-based Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen. The Turkish government blames Gulen for the 2016 coup attempt and considers his network to be a terrorist organization.
Topuz’s arrest and subsequent prosecution caused tensions between Ankara and Washington, and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issued a statement criticizing the conviction.
The accusations were based on his contacts with police officers believed to be members of Gulen’s network of followers. Topuz has maintained his innocence throughout his trial and is expected to appeal the verdict.
In his statement, Pompeo said: “U.S. officials observed every hearing in the trial of Mr. Topuz in Istanbul, and we have seen no credible evidence to support this decision. As a result, this conviction undermines confidence in Turkey’s institutions and the critical trust at the foundation of Turkish-American relations.”
Pompeo added that the U.S. officials “reiterate our call on the Turkish government to resolve his case in a just manner.”
In his concluding words in his own defense before the verdict, Topuz told the court that he had been in contact with Turkish police, paramilitary police and customs officials as part of his job with the DEA and had no way of knowing that these officials were involved in criminal acts.
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“As part of my duty with the DEA, under the instructions and observation of my superiors, I had thousands of contacts with 309 law enforcement officials to prevent crime,” the state-run Anadolu Agency quoted Topuz as saying.
“I committed no crime and had no relations with (Gulen’s network),” he said.
The U.S. Embassy said: “For nearly three decades, Mr. Topuz performed outstanding work appreciated and lauded by officials and citizens of both countries. Under our direction, he promoted law enforcement cooperation between Turkey and the U.S., contributing to the safety of people in both nations.”
Gulen, who has been in self-imposed exile in the U.S. since 1999, denies involvement in the coup attempt, which killed about 250 people and injured around 2,000 others.
The Associated Press contributed to this article