ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkey has dismissed what it said were ludicrous reports that Turkish officials may have discussed a plan to seize a wanted U.S.-based Muslim cleric and hand him over to Ankara in exchange for millions of dollars.
In a statement, the Turkish embassy in Washington repeated Ankara’s request for the extradition of the cleric, Fethullah Gulen, who it says masterminded last year’s failed military coup, but said Turkey would not operate outside the law to achieve that goal.
The statement followed a Wall Street Journal report that Special Counsel Robert Mueller was investigating an alleged proposal under which former U.S. national security adviser Michael Flynn and his son would receive up to $15 million for seizing Gulen and delivering him to the Turkish government.
NBC also reported an alleged December 2016 meeting, saying Mueller’s team was investigating whether Flynn met senior Turkish officials before President Donald Trump’s inauguration about a possible quid pro quo in which Flynn would be paid to do the bidding of Turkey’s government while in office.
“Turkey and the Turkish people expect the immediate extradition of Fethullah Gulen from the United States to Turkey, so that he can stand trial,” the embassy statement said, in the first official Turkish reaction to the newspaper report.
“As we stated previously… all allegations that Turkey would resort to means external to the rule of law for his extradition are utterly false, ludicrous and groundless”.
Flynn’s lawyer said on Friday that allegations made against him “ranging from kidnapping to bribery” were outrageous and false.
Around 250 people were killed in the attempted military coup against President Tayyip Erdogan in July last year. Turkey says Gulen orchestrated the failed coup from the United States, where he has lived for nearly two decades.
Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said he raised the Gulen issue with U.S. Vice President Mike Pence during talks in Washington last week, but said that the extradition request was being handled by the two countries’ justice ministries.
“We are not dealing with Michael Flynn,” Yildirim told CNN in an interview. “We are dealing with the government of the United States.”
Gulen’s fate is one of several disagreements between Turkey and the United States. Turkey has been angered by U.S. support for Kurdish fighters in Syria and the indictment of a Turkish former economy minister over alleged violations of U.S. sanctions against Iran.
Washington has complained about the detention of two locally employed staff at U.S. consulates in Turkey, and a month ago suspended issuing visas in the country. It partly resumed visa services last week, prompting Ankara to follow suit.
More than 50,000 people, including soldiers, teachers and journalists, have been jailed pending trial in a sweeping crackdown following last year’s coup attempt.
European allies fear Erdogan is using the investigations to stifle opposition and undermine the judiciary. He has responded by saying that the purges are necessary to maintain stability in a pivotal NATO country bordering Iran, Iraq and Syria.
Reporting by Dominic Evans; Editing by Gareth Jones