Turkish judge rejects U.S. consulate staffer’s release as espionage trial resumes

The trial of a U.S. consulate staffer accused of spying and attempting to overthrow Turkey’s government continued on Wednesday with the judge ordering he remain in custody, opposition newspaper Sözcü reported.

Metin Topuz, a Turkish citizen and Istanbul-based liaison with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, tearfully denied the charges against him in court, the newspaper said.

Arrested in 2017, Topuz is accused of ties to U.S.-based Turkish preacher Fethullah Gülen, who Ankara says organised a failed coup attempt in 2016. The Gülen movement was placed on Turkey’s list of terrorist organisations in May 2016.

“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,” Sözcü reported Topuz as saying during trial.

U.S. Embassy charge d’affaires Jeffrey Hovenier told reporters outside the courthouse that they had “seen no credible evidence of any criminal wrongdoing on the part of Metin Topuz,” AFP reported.

“We reiterate our call on the Turkish authorities to resolve this matter swiftly, transparently and fairly,” Hovenier added.

The next hearing for the Topuz has been set for June 28.

The trial comes at a time of increased tensions between Washington and Ankara over Turkey’s decision to buy the Russian S-400 missile defence system, the U.S. refusal to extradite Gülen, as well as disagreements over the Syrian conflict.

Topuz is accused of espionage as well as arranging arms trafficking through exchanges on the WhatsApp messaging service and faces life in prison if found guilty.

On Wednesday, his lawyer presented the court with a list of Topuz’s phone calls to police, indicating they were all work related.

Since the failed 2016 coup, tens of thousands of people have been detained over suspected links to Gülen, who denies the charges, and some 130,000 people have been dismissed from public sector jobs for being members of the movement.