Rome and Ankara bickered yesterday (2 August) over an Italian investigation into accusations that Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan’s son Bilal laundered money.
In an interview with Rainews24 TV, Erdoğan stressed that his son Bilal could not return to Italy for studies due to a money-laundering probe by prosecutors in the northern city of Bologna, where Bilal had been studying. Erdoğan warned that this could affect bilateral relations.
“If my son came back to Italy at this moment, he could be arrested”, Turkish President stressed, adding that “this could even cause problems for our relationship with Italy”.
Bilal, 35, went to Italy in 2015 to finish a doctorate. According to Reuters, it was not clear when he left, but a legal source said he had been back in Turkey for some time. He denies wrongdoing.
Erdogan also urged Italian judges to focus on the mafia and not his son, triggering the strong reaction of the Italian premier.
“It’s called rule of law”
In response, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi wrote on Twitter that Italy had an independent legal system and “judges answer to the Italian constitution and not the Turkish president”.
In questo Paese i giudici rispondono alle leggi e alla Costituzione italiana, non al presidente turco. Si chiama "stato di diritto" #Italia
— Matteo Renzi (@matteorenzi) August 2, 2016
“It’s called rule of law,” Renzi ironically said, referring to the ongoing turmoil in Turkey which has seen more than 60,000 people in the military, judiciary, civil service and education system detained, suspended or placed under investigation after last month’s failed coup attempt.
The money laundering investigation followed accusations by Murat Hakan Uzan, an exiled member of one of Turkey’s richest families and an opponent of the president, a legal source said.
Italian press reported prosecutors were looking into sums of money allegedly brought to Italy from Turkey. In July, a Bologna court allowed them to extend their investigation by six months.
Bilal’s lawyer Giovanni Trombini said his client declared that “all his economic and financial activity is totally transparent and legal, and the accusations are completely unfounded”.
Bilal, one of the Turkish president’s four children, has shipping and maritime assets and controls several oil tankers through his company and partnerships in other firms.
Reactions in Italy
Erdogan’s comments prompted several reactions from the political and judicial community.
Italy’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Paolo Gentiloni, noted that in his country there was “full respect of the autonomy of the judiciary” and that together with the police it has worked successfully in the past against the mafia.
As for the relations between Italy and Turkey, the center-left politician reiterated his country’s strong condemnation of the 15 July coup attempt and confirmed the “common concern in Europe about the events in progress”.
Giovanni Legnini, vice-president of the Supreme Judicial Council also intervened, saying the attack against the Italian judiciary was “serious and unacceptable”.
He also noted that it is Turkey that must give the international community a guarantee of compliance with the principles of autonomy and independence of the judiciary as well as give answers on the extremely serious dismissals and arrests of thousands of judges after the coup attempt.