Turkish prosecutors ordered the detention of 417 suspects in a money-laundering investigation into the transfer of about 2.5 billion lira ($419 million) worth of foreign currency to bank accounts abroad, broadcaster CNN Turk said on Tuesday.
The vast majority of the recipients of the funds were Iranian citizens resident in the United States, it added, citing a statement from Istanbul’s chief prosecutor.
Istanbul police teams were launching raids across a series of provinces, searching properties and detaining many people, the broadcaster said.
State-owned Anadolu news agency said 216 of the suspects had so far been detained in operations across 40 provinces.
Police, the prosecutor and other judicial authorities were not immediately available to comment on the report, which was carried by other Turkish media.
The investigation was aimed at those who “targeted the economic and financial security of the Turkish Republic,” the Istanbul chief prosecutor’s office said, according to CNN Turk.
The issue of foreign money transfers has become politically sensitive in Turkey, which is in the throes of a currency crisis. The lira has fallen about 40 percent against the dollar this year, prompting President Tayyip Erdogan to warn Turks against sending money abroad if it is not for investment.
“We will not forgive those who resort to smuggling money abroad if it is not to grow, develop and spread their business, trade and investments,” Erdogan said in a speech to business leaders in April.
There were no indications of any links between the current investigation and Erdogan’s push to encourage Turks to keep their money in Turkey.
The suspects were accused of money laundering, “forming a gang with the aim of committing crime,” and “breaking a law aimed at preventing the financing of terrorism,” the statement said. The operation was launched by financial crimes police.
It said the suspects were accused of receiving commission for sending the money to 28,088 accounts abroad. The transfers were made from various bank branches and ATMs starting from Jan. 1, 2017 with sums of 5,000 lira and more, the statement said.
The crackdown comes months after a U.S. court sentenced an executive from Turkey’s state-owned Halkbank to 32 months in jail in an Iran sanctions-busting case. The bank has denied any wrongdoing and Turkey has said that case is politically motivated.