WASHINGTON (Wall Street Journal) — Federal prosecutors have dropped charges against 11 of 15 members of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s security team who were accused in connection with the beating of protesters during their visit to Washington last year, the latest twist in a case that caused a diplomatic rift between the US and Turkey.
The decision by the US to prosecute the 15 men added to political strains as the Trump administration was trying to reset relations with Turkey, a key US ally in the fight against Islamic State. The move to dismiss charges against most of them stands to ease one source of tension between Washington and Ankara.
Prosecutors first asked a judge in November to dismiss charges against four members of Erdogan’s security detail. Then they dropped charges against seven others on February 14, the day before Secretary of State Rex Tillerson flew to Ankara for a meeting with Erdogan meant to ease tensions. Among those freed of legal jeopardy immediately before the high-level meeting was the head of Erdogan’s security team.
US officials said that no one pressured prosecutors to drop any of the charges for political reasons. Instead, the decisions were the result of investigators misidentifying some of the suspects and failing to develop enough evidence against others, according to the US officials and an attorney who provided some free legal advice to defendants in the case.
Tillerson, in his private talks with Turkish leaders, pointed to the decisions to drop charges — which hadn’t been publicized or announced — as an example of how the US had addressed Erdogan’s grievances, according to administration officials familiar with the talks.
The administration’s efforts to reset relations with Turkey have been buffeted by a series of challenges, including the prosecution of the guards and a decision by President Donald Trump to directly arm Syrian Kurdish fighters that Turkey considers terrorists.