A former Turkish police officer who led the investigation of a smuggling, bribery and Iran sanctions-busting scheme that touched top ministers, testified in Manhattan federal court on Monday that he was imprisoned and eventually had to flee the country for his role exposing the plot.

Ex-cop Huseyin Korkmaz said Turkish leader Recep Erdogan was one of the targets of the 2013 probe into the billion-dollar scheme run by gold trader Reza Zarrab, who has become a cooperating witness and also testified for the U.S. government against banker Mehmet Hakan Atilla.

Korkmaz said that within days of rounding up Zarrab and other conspirators, he was transferred from his job as a financial crimes investigator to a new post guarding bridges, then moved to a province hundreds of miles from Istanbul, and then arrested and jailed for a year and a half.

When he was released on bail, Korkmaz said, he gathered what evidence he could and arranged with a smuggler to get out of Turkey, laying low in three different countries and finally making contact with U.S. law enforcement.

“I did not feel legally secure in any way,” he said. “Rights to defend one’s own freedom as an individual were taken away, so I took my wife and daughter and left the country I dearly loved.”

Korkmaz also testified that although Atilla’s name came up during the Turkish investigation, there was no evidence he took bribes.

Erdogan has fiercely criticized the U.S. trial since its start three weeks ago, claiming the entire case was concocted by opponents of his government.

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