Turks to seek extradition of preacher living in U.S.

fethullah-gulen

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said Tuesday that Turkey would officially request that the United States extradite Fethullah Gülen, a Turkish preacher in Pennsylvania whose network of followers has been accused of trying to undercut Mr. Erdogan’s government through a corruption scandal.

The request, which Mr. Erdoğan announced to reporters in Ankara, is a new low point in relations between Mr. Erdoğan and Mr. Gülen, a onetime ally who retains wide influence in Turkey even though he has lived in rural Pennsylvania since 1997. It reflects the sensitivity of the corruption accusations that have been leveled against Mr. Erdogan’s close circle, including his son and the sons of some of his ministers.

The request, which Mr. Erdoğan announced to reporters in Ankara, is a new low point in relations between Mr. Erdoğan and Mr. Gülen, a onetime ally who retains wide influence in Turkey even though he has lived in rural Pennsylvania since 1997. It reflects the sensitivity of the corruption accusations that have been leveled against Mr. Erdogan’s close circle, including his son and the sons of some of his ministers.

But the two allies fell out last year in a power struggle, and the corruption scandal flared up significantly this year when recordings of telephone conversations surfaced that appeared to indicate widespread corruption in the government — leaks that Mr. Erdoğan said were the work of Mr. Gülen’s followers.

The leaked calls seized public attention before local elections in March and infuriated the government, while having little impact on Mr. Erdogan’s popularity.

In an interview with Charlie Rose on his PBS talk show shown over the weekend, Mr. Erdoğan said that the telephone wiretaps were clearly illegal and that he expected the United States, a close NATO ally of Turkey, to respond positively to the request.

The State Department has a policy of not commenting on pending requests, but legal specialists said the Turkish one faced tough odds, not least because of its political overtones.

“This extradition request has no legal basis,” said Ergun Ozbudun, a professor of law at Istanbul Sehir University, noting the considerable difficulty surrounding extradition requests even when suspects are charged with serious crimes. “The request for Fethullah Gülen’s extradition therefore would be a political one, and I don’t think would produce any results.”

Lawyers for Mr. Gülen, who has permanent resident status in the United States, agreed. “There is neither an investigation nor an arrest warrant issued by court in place to submit to the U.S. authorities,” said Nurullah Albayrak, an Istanbul lawyer who represents Mr. Gülen. “This is not something that political will can decide.”

A Gülen-affiliated group in New York, the Alliance for Shared Values, on Tuesday denounced Mr. Erdogan’s move, saying, “The prime minister’s talk about demanding the extradition of Mr. Gülen, when there are no charges or legal case against him, is a clear indication of political persecution and harassment.”

Mr. Gülen has rejected portrayals of himself as a powerful behind-the-scenes political manipulator. Analysts say his strength in Turkey lies in the number of his followers who hold important positions in state institutions, especially in the judiciary and the police. But he has strongly denied encouraging his followers to mount the graft investigation against Mr. Erdoğan and his close circle.

In general, for the United States to approve an extradition request from another country, the person must be accused of a crime recognized in both jurisdictions, and there must be a reasonable belief that the person did commit the crime. It was not clear whether Turkey’s request would satisfy either requirement.

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