Turkish police have arrested and jailed a US diplomat working for Washington’s consulate in Beirut on suspicion of issuing a fake passport to a Syrian national, Turkish media reported Wednesday.
The pro-government Daily Sabah newspaper said that diplomats’ customary immunity from prosecution does not apply in countries in which they have no accreditation.
This gave Turkey the right to arrest the diplomat, who was accredited to only work in Lebanon, the newspaper said.
The arrest threatens to further strain Turkey’s relations with Washington, which have deteriorated since the election of US President Joe Biden.
The US embassy in Ankara made no immediate comment.
Citing police sources, Turkish media said the diplomat — identified only by the initials D.J.K. — was initially detained at Istanbul Airport on November 11.
The American has since been charged with providing a faked copy of their own passport to a Syrian who was trying to fly from Istanbul to Germany, the reports said.
The diplomat received $10,000 in exchange for the passport during a handoff at Istanbul Airport, which was captured by closed circuit cameras, according to the reports.
The Syrian national, identified by the initials R.S., was charged with forging an official document and released.
“D.J.K., an American citizen, was arrested and transferred to prison,” the police source was quoted as saying.
It was not immediately clear why Turkish police waited more than a month before publicising the case.
Turkey, which is a strategically vital member of the NATO defence alliance, has close but complex relations with the United States.
Successive US administration have treated Turkey as a bulwark in the volatile Middle East region, and a regional counterweight to Russia.
The United States also stores nuclear weapons on Turkey’s southern Incirlik air base, which is used by the US Air Force.
But relations soured after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s decision to take delivery of an advanced Russia missile defence system in 2019.
Washington retaliated by kicking Turkey out of the F-35 joint strike fighter programme, and then sanctioning Turkey’s military procurement agency.
Biden has further made a point of highlighting Turkey’s poor human rights record, which further eroded when Erdogan unleashed a sweeping crackdown after surviving a coup attempt in 2016.