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US consulate staffer faces Turkey spying trial

AFP  |  Istanbul 

A staffer went on trial in a on Tuesday accused of spying and attempting to overthrow the government in a case that fuelled tensions between the and its NATO ally.

Metin Topuz, a Turkish citizen and long-time liaison with the US Drug Enforcement Administration, was arrested in 2017 accused of ties to US-based Fethullah Gulen, who says ordered a failed 2016 coup.

escorted Topuz weeping into the in Istanbul, where he faces life in jail if found guilty, an said.

Topuz rejected the indictment that charges he was in contact with police officers and a former accused of involvement in the movement.

"During my 25 year service at DEA, I met a lot of police personnel and public officials and exchanged business cards with them," Topuz told the court. "I have no duty other than to serve as a between the interlocutors.

"I haven't betrayed my homeland as is claimed... The accusations are humiliating for me and my family. I am innocent." The US charge d'affaires from the embassy and the consul general were also in court for the first set of hearings, which is expected to last three days.

The trial opened as relations between the and have worsened with disagreements over Syria's war, Turkey's purchase of Russian missiles and the US refusal to extradite

The has called the accusations "wholly without merit".

US officials say freeing "unjustly detained" Turkish nationals on their staff is a priority, as is the case of NASA Serkan Golge, a dual US-Turkish national jailed on terror charges.

Another local consulate staffer, Mete Canturk, is under house arrest and facing similar charges to Topuz.

A in January convicted Hamza Ulucay, a former local employee of the in Adana, southern Turkey, of helping outlawed Kurdish militants. He was released for time already served.

In the indictment, Topuz is accused of engaging in espionage activities as well as arranging arms trafficking through exchanges on the Whatsapp messaging service.

Topuz's initial arrest in 2017 triggered a diplomatic crisis with both and the US suspending visa services, until they stepped back.

"This has been a big deal in the Turkish-US relations, but Americans have reversed course from an earlier decision to impose visa bans and have decided to pursue a quiet diplomacy," said Asli Aydintasbas, a fellow with the

Since the failed 2016 coup against Erdogan, tens of thousands of people have been detained over suspected links to and more than 100,000 people have been sacked or suspended from public sector jobs. Gulen denies the coup accusations.

has been criticised by its Western allies and human rights activists over the crackdown they say has undermined democracy. But Turkish officials say the raids are needed to clear Gulen's influence from state institutions.

US relations with plummeted to a low last year over detained US pastor Andrew Brunson, triggering tit-for-tat sanctions that hit the local lira currency. Brunson was released in October last year and relations improved.

But Erdogan's decision to buy S-400 from has provoked warnings from that the deal may impact its sale of US-made fighter jets to Turkey and trigger more sanctions.

Turkey's push to buy the systems has raised questions among NATO allies over as well as concerns over the relationship between Erdogan and Russian

Ties were already strained over US support of Kurdish forces in Syria, which Ankara brands as a terrorist group tied to PKK Kurdish militants fighting an insurgency against the Turkish state.

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Tue, March 26 2019. 21:55 IST
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