Tayyip Erdogan.jpg
Photograph: EPA/OLIVIER HOSLET

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan irritated one of his country's closest allies in the European Union on Tuesday when he criticized Italy's investigations against his son Bilal for money laundering.

Bilal Erdogan, 35, moved to the northern Italian town of Bologna in September for doctorate studies but left after news emerged that local prosecutors were examining claims that he arrived in the city with large amounts of ill-gotten cash.

"My son is a brilliant man and he is being accused of laundering money," the Turkish leader said in an interview with Italian state broadcaster Rainews 24. "They should worry about the Mafia, rather than my son."

"This affair could even threaten our relations with Italy," Erdogan said.

People in Bologna "call me a dictator and hold marches for the PKK," the banned Kurdistan Workers' Party, Erdogan complained. "Why don't [Italian authorities] intervene? Is this what you call the rule of law?"

Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi's response, just a few hours later, was unusually blunt for the standards of international diplomacy.

"Judges answer to the Italian constitution and not to the Turkish president," Renzi wrote on Facebook. "We call this system 'rule of law' and we are proud of it," the prime minister added.

In a separate statement, the Rome foreign ministry confirmed the independence of the judiciary and said Italian authorities were successfully battling the Mafia and "certainly need no encouragement from anyone" to pursue their work.

Italy has extensive economic ties with Turkey, and often lobbies on its behalf in the EU. The foreign ministry said Rome condemns the coup attempt against Erdogan, but is worried, along with the rest of Europe, about "ongoing developments" in Turkey.

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