MHP leader slams pro-gov’t media for interviewing Iranian businessman

Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) leader Devlet Bahçeli has slammed pro-government media outlets for holding interviews with Iranian businessman Reza Zarrab, whom he calls an “embezzler” and “Iranian fraud.”

Speaking during his party’s parliamentary group meeting on Tuesday, Bahçeli accused some media outlets of being turned into “pro-government circuses” for interviewing Zarrab, the Iranian businessman who was detained in the Dec. 17 corruption probe operation and later released pending trial.

The MHP leader said, “It is a disaster to present this Iranian man to our nation.”

“I closed 15 percent of the current account deficit [CAD],” Zarrab said in his serial interviews in pro-government media outlets. He said he financed $10 billion towards the $65 billion deficit of the last year by exporting gold to Iran. Experts say that gold trade to Iran at such a hefty annual amount of $10 billion cannot be seen in either Iran’s own foreign trade figures or in the numbers released by the Turkish Statistics Institute (TurkStat). Experts also ask that who would sell gold to Iran through registered normal trade while the country is levying a 50 percent tax on imported gold.

Bahçeli criticized Zarrab’s claims and said: “For us, a person who closes 15 percent of the CAD, should be brought to the head of Central Bank or a ministry by the prime minister. His statues should be erected at front of the AK Party buildings and his photograph should be printed on banknotes.”

Iranian businessman Zarrab claimed in his interviews with pro-government TV station A Haber and the Sabah daily that he faced pressure from “them” to libel the government with corruption in return for an acquittal on all charges, but that he refused. “I was detained in the most private place [of my home], from by bedroom,” he said, adding that he realized that it was a “coup d’etat” going on the moment he saw “20 cameras at the door.”

About the 1.5 tons of gold confiscated at the airport on a plane from Ghana, he said: “We learned that the plane lacked documents when we applied to the customs agents for the import. We gave up the import. They didn’t even take testimony [about this], they did nothing, but it was in the headlines for days.”

Zarrab responded to a question about an assertion in the graft probe that he bribed former Interior Minister Muammer Güler to naturalize some of his family members. “I became a Turkish citizen in 2006 or 2007. The interior minister was Abdülkadir Aksu back then. Would you think that it was abnormal for a person who has been living in Turkey since 1984 to have his elder brother naturalized?” asked Zarrab. The businessman also denied any wrongdoing in trade on the grounds that “Smuggling is impossible in gold. Because there is no tax, no value-added tax [VAT] in the gold trade.” He added that even the judge was surprised upon hearing this information during the trial.

The interviews were widely criticized on social media. People accused the journalists of avoiding addressing troubling questions and not pressing their subject enough when he gave inaccurate or irrelevant answers.

Some Twitter users objected to the Turkish flag displayed behind Zarrab during his interview with A Haber. Others mockingly apologized for all their unkind thoughts about him in the past. İdris Bal, an independent deputy who resigned from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) after the graft probe was exposed in December, said the interviews were a “perception management operation.”