May 15, 2019 / 12:20 PM / 4 days ago

Turkish court declines to free U.S. consular employee

ISTANBUL (Reuters) - A Turkish court refused to release an employee of the U.S. consulate in Istanbul on Wednesday, in a trial on espionage charges that has damaged relations with Washington.

Metin Topuz, a Turkish translator for the Drug Enforcement Agency at the consulate, was ordered held at least until his next appearance, which was set for June 28, one of his lawyers, Selman Alibas, told Reuters.

Topuz, who has already been held since his arrest in 2017, is one of three U.S. consulate employees who have been charged in criminal cases that have been major irritants in the relationship between the NATO allies.

Turkey’s strained ties with the United States, including threats of sanctions over Ankara’s push to purchase Russian missile systems, are one of the factors contributing to investor fears that have seen its currency plunge in recent years.

Washington and Ankara are at odds over a range of issues including Syria policy, the U.S. refusal to extradite a Turkish cleric that Ankara accuses of plotting a failed coup, and Turkey’s plans to buy the Russian missile systems.

Topuz is on trial on charges of espionage and links to the network of cleric Fethullah Gulen, who is based in the United States and blamed by Turkey for plotting the failed 2016 coup. Washington says Topuz is innocent.

The indictment accuses Topuz of being in frequent contact with officers who led a 2013 corruption investigation in Turkey, which the government has described as a “judicial coup attempt” by Gulen’s network.

Topuz denies the charges, saying it was not his decision who he came into contact with through his work.

Turkey indicted another U.S. consulate employee in March, also accusing him of links to Gulen’s network. A third employee was freed convicted of terrorism but freed in January due to time served during his trial.

Since the abortive 2016 military coup, Turkey has detained 160,000 people and dismissed nearly as many civil servants over suspected links to the coup attempt, according to the U.N. human rights office.

Reporting by Ali Kucukgocmen; Editing by Dominic Evans and Peter Graff

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