By Julian Hattem - 12/21/13 10:49 AM EST
Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan threatened to expel foreign diplomats amid a corruption scandal that has shaken his country, according to reports.
In a speech on Saturday, Erdoğan made veiled threats directed at U.S. Ambassador Francis Ricciardone, whom pro-government forces have accused of meddling in the domestic scandal. Ricciardone was not specifically named in the speech.
Two dozen government workers and businessmen have been arrested over the last week as authorities crack down on money laundering and corruption in Istanbul. Among those arrested was the head of Turkey's state-owned bank, Halkbank.
The action is seen by many as part of an increasingly hostile political standoff between Erdoğan and his former ally Fethullah Gulen, a U.S.-based Muslim cleric with influence in the police and judiciary. Gulen leads the Hizmet political movement, which is seen as a potential threat to the ruling AK Party.
Some Turkish media sources supportive of Erdoğan’s government have accused the American ambassador of encouraging the arrest of Halkbank's chief, in order to stop the bank's dealings with Iran.
Earlier this year, a bipartisan group of 47 American lawmakers wrote a letter to the Treasury and State Departments saying that the bank’s involvement with Iran should be a “sanctionable activity.”
“This is an operation ordered by some international groups, and their subcontractors within Turkey are carrying it out, as a step taken against the government,” Erdoğan said, according to Reuters. “We will not bow down to it.”
The U.S. embassy in Turkey has denied its involvement.
In a statement in Turkish on Twitter, Ricciardone said that the U.S. “is not involved in any way.”
The allegations, he added, were “unfounded.”