A former employee of the U.S. Consulate in Istanbul appeared before court on Tuesday facing charges of espionage and conspiracy against the Turkish government. Mr. Metin Topuz worked in the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) mission as a local assistant and translator. The DEA mission is headquartered within the Istanbul Consulate’s premises.
Case proceedings began on Tuesday roughly 17 months after Topuz’s pre-trial detainment by Turkish security forces. The defendant is charged of having ties with the Turkish spiritual leader Fethullah Gulen. The Islamic cleric is self-exiled in the U.S. and has been repeatedly criticised by the Turkish government of instigating the 2016 foiled coup attempt against the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
If found guilty, Mr. Topuz will serve life imprisonment sentence. The arrest of the U.S. official spurred controversy between the two longstanding NATO allies. As a response to Mr. Topuz’s pre-trial imprisonment, the U.S. temporarily halted bilateral visa services in 2017.
Mr. Topuz’s Indictment and Apology
According to the court’s 78-page indictment, Mr. Topuz has allegedly come into contact with Turkish police officials and a prosecutor responsible for a 2013 counter-corruption investigation. The Turkish government considers these people as allies of Mr. Topuz and members of the Gulen’s circle. All of them have been charged of attempting to overthrow President Erdogan with a judicial coup. The Turkish President has been one of the 30 plaintiffs that filed charges against Mr. Topuz.
Mr. Topuz assumed duties in the U.S. Consulate in 1982. In his statement before the three-judge panel the Consulate official argued that he contacted Turkish security officials, especially members of counter-narcotics teams, to share information about operational issues. Mr. Topuz also commented that he had been among the people who oversaw and prepared the ground for the official visits of U.S. high ranking officials in Turkey. The defendant closed his court statement arguing that the court selectively examined conversations with particular security officials, allegedly having ties with Mr. Gulen, and did not consider that these information exchange sessions were mainly focused on work-related issues. Mr. Topuz also faces charges of illegally recording conversations with Turkish officials and saving sensitive information in his mobile equipment.