ISTANBUL: A senior adviser to the Turkish president has again been accused of judicial interference.
Burhan Kuzu is a founding member of Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), and a leading member of the board that advises President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on legal matters.
Orhan Ungan, who was imprisoned after the daughter of an Iranian drug lord and her driver were killed, said that Kuzu tried to keep him behind bars.
His accusation follows the indictment of the presidential aide on charges of judicial interference in an attempt to secure the release of the Iranian drug lord, Naji Sharifi Zindashti, from custody. Zindashti and Ungan are rivals.
Kuzu is accused of trying to use undue influence on behalf of Zindashti, who was convicted in 2007 of possessing 75kg of heroin. Zindashti was released in August 2010, but detained again in April 2018 on suspicion of murder, instigating murder and membership of an outlawed organization.
He is said to have called prosecutors and judges and told them that Zindashti’s release would be beneficial for Turkish-Iranian relations, and he was freed six months later. The prosecutor’s office opposed his release and issued an arrest warrant, but Zindashti had fled.
Kuzu initially denied ever meeting the Iranian, but was forced to admit that he had after the publication of a photograph of him with Zindashti in a restaurant. He said the Iranian had presented himself as a businessman seeking Turkish citizenship.
Ozgur Ozel, an outspoken parliamentarian from the main opposition CHP, has long criticized Kuzu for interfering in the judicial process while holding key government positions.
“How does such a person have a seat in the legal issues board?” Ozel said in a parliamentary speech earlier this year. “Journalists are behind bars, but he is there. He was caught red-handed in the Zindashti case.”
Prosecutors are seeking a five-year prison sentence for Kuzu.
The new investigation is a sign of deteriorating relations between Iran and Turkey.
The killing of Iranian dissident Masoud Molavi Vardanjani, who was shot dead in the middle of a busy street in Istanbul last November, was harshly criticized by the US, who claimed that the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security was directly involved in the assassination.
Vardanjani, who was a former defense official in Iran before fleeing to Turkey, was leading a campaign to “root out the corrupt mafia commanders” with his term.
Turkey’s relations with Iran have also soured over their disagreements regarding Syria’s rebel-held Idlib province, where they support opposing camps.
Tehran is against the presence of Turkish soldiers in Syria and wants to keep President Bashar Assad in office. Turkey, on the other hand, supports the rebels and conducts military offensives in the region to support its regional claims.