Azeri Turkish businessman arrested over alleged Gulen links, police says

ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Azeri Turkish businessman Mubariz Mansimov Gurbanoglu has been arrested in one of the highest-profile detentions of a crackdown against suspects linked to a network accused of carrying out an attempted coup in 2016, Istanbul police said on Tuesday.

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Gurbanoglu is the founder and chairman of the Istanbul-based Palmali group, which operates a fleet of freight vessels.

After he was detained at the weekend, a court ordered his formal arrest over ties to the network of U.S.-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen which President Tayyip Erdogan blames for the failed putsch in which about 250 people died, police and state-owned Anadolu news agency said.

Gurbanoglu’s home and company were searched.

Nobody from Palmali was available to comment.

The Istanbul court ordered that he be kept in custody on a charge of belonging to a terrorist group, Anadolu said.

He was listed by Forbes as worth $1.3 billion in 2015, with interests in dairy products, media, resorts and planes, as well as having a fleet of oil tankers. Born in the Azeri capital Baku, he became a Turkish citizen in 2006, taking the name Gurbanoglu.

Gulen, who has lived in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania since 1999, has denied any involvement in the attempted coup. He was once an ally of Erdogan but became his arch foe.

Gulen’s supporters have for years been accused by Ankara of establishing a “parallel state” by infiltrating the police, judiciary and other state institutions.

About 80,000 people have been jailed pending trial and some 150,000 civil servants, military personnel and others sacked or suspended from their jobs since the coup attempt.

Prosecutors last month ordered the arrest of another nearly 700 people, including military and justice ministry personnel.

The European Union and rights groups have criticized the scale of the crackdown, while Ankara has defended the measures as a necessary response to the security threat.

Additional reporting by Ali Kucukgocmen; Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by Dominic Evans and Andrew Cawthorne