Turkey's Erdogan says businessmen moving assets abroad are 'traitors'

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan greets his supporters during a meeting of his ruling AK Party in Kars, Turkey, December 2, 2017. Yasin Bulbul/Presidential Palace/Handout via REUTERS

ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Sunday businessmen who attempted to move assets abroad were “traitors”, and called on his cabinet to block any such moves.

“I am seeing signals, news that some businessmen are trying to move their assets abroad, and I call on firstly my cabinet from here to never allow this exit for any of them because these people are traitors,” Erdogan said.

Speaking to members of his ruling AK Party in the eastern province of Mus, Erdogan did not say to whom he was referring, nor did he single out a single business, person or country of destination.

His comments come after the state-run Anadolu news agency said on Friday that Turkish prosecutors were set to seize the assets of Turkish-Iranian gold trader Reza Zarrab, who is cooperating with U.S. prosecutors in the trial of a Turkish bank executive charged with evading U.S. sanctions on Iran, and his acquaintances.

The trial has caused already strained ties between NATO allies Ankara and Washington to deteriorate further as Zarrab detailed in court a scheme to evade the U.S. sanctions, saying that Erdogan personally authorized two Turkish banks to join the scheme when prime minister.

Ankara has cast the testimony as an attempt to undermine Turkey and its economy, and has previously said it was a “clear plot” by the network of U.S.-based Fethullah Gulen, who it alleges engineered last year’s coup attempt.

“We cannot take kindly to those who earn in this country and then try to take those earnings abroad,” Erdogan said.

Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by Mark Potter