US consular staffer espionage trial resumes in Turkey

Istanbul (AFP) –


A US consular staffer tearfully denied espionage charges as his trial resumed in Istanbul on Wednesday -- part of a growing rift between Washington and Ankara.

Metin Topuz, a Turkish citizen and liaison for the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), was arrested in 2017.

He was accused of contacts with police and a prosecutor suspected of ties to US-based Muslim preacher Fethullah Gulen, who Ankara says ordered an attempted coup in 2016.

Topuz has denied all allegations against him and told the court on Monday that all his contacts were "part of my job", an AFP reporter said.

"I didn't commit any crime. All my contacts with those in high-ranking positions of the state at the time were entirely part of my work as a translator and assistant liaison officer at the DEA. I am innocent," he said, tearfully.

His defence lawyer presented a list of his phone calls with police, saying they were entirely work-related.

He told reporters Wednesday that Topuz could not be freed from prison during the trial because he faces a separate case of seeking to "overthrow the constitutional order".

US embassy and consular officials, who have dismissed the charges as being without merit, were also at the courthouse to observe the brief proceedings.

The next hearing has been scheduled for June 28.

The trial comes at a time when the NATO allies are increasingly at odds over Syria, Turkey's decision to buy a Russian missile defence system and the US refusal to extradite Gulen.

According to his indictment, Topuz is accused of espionage as well as arranging arms trafficking through exchanges on the WhatsApp messaging service.

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