The Hakan Atilla case: This courtroom drama took a turn
The so-called “Reza Zarrab” case in New York has recently taken an interesting turn, though nobody seems to be talking about it. Independent Turkish media outlets are hardly covering the technical details of the case, while pro-ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) media are pretending the whole thing simply does not exist. One could almost argue that the Iran sanctions case is the perfect example of the post-truth era.
Trouble appears to be brewing on the path ahead. The gold trader Reza Zarrab is no longer in the witness seat. His explosive exposé regarding the 30 to 35 million euros he paid in bribes has fizzled out in the Turkish public.
“Not everyone has forgotten. The wound is still open. Even if the AKP base is not in open rebellion against its leader, it is definitely talking about [the Zarrab case] in closed circles,” Hakan Bayrakçi, the founder of the SONAR polling company, told private broadcaster CNN Türk last week.
İbrahim Uslu, the founder of ANAR Research, disagreed. “When the Dec. 17-25 corruption probes were launched, the AKP base pretty much knew the allegations were true. They forced the party to pay the price in the 2015 June elections. I do not think they will re-open that box,” he said.
But as markets suffer, a falling minimum wage and other economic woes must surely force people to reflect on how corruption allows some to get incredibly rich in a short space of time. The AKP’s wealth-sharing scheme will have excluded many of its grassroots supporters.
From a legal perspective, the courtroom drama is turning into a solid case against the entire Turkish political establishment.
Sözcü columnist Zeynep Gürcanlı covers the case on a daily basis. This week she wrote that Judge Berman is sticking to the basics of the case and ignoring the political brouhaha, especially the “FETÖ vs. Erdoğan” narrative. “Berman is even underlining evidence in favor of Hakan Atilla, hinting that the final verdict may be less hostile towards the defendant than previously imagined,” Gürcanlı wrote.
That is my theory. Atilla may be found not guilty on charges of evading U.S. sanctions. But if evidence concerning Süleyman Aslan and others who ordered the gold-for-food-or-dollars scheme is solid, the Turkish government and Halkbank will be slapped with a huge fine.
Hürriyet business columnist Erdal Sağlam has been writing about the reactions in corporate circles to the case. “While politicians keep saying ‘they will do bad things to us’ just to scare the voter base, businesspeople and investors are getting edgy and thinking there may be some truth in it,” Sağlam wrote.
He suggested that this means everyone is postponing new investment plans and international meetings. If fears begin to dominate the market, pessimism could “spread faster than we think.
As the drama in a cold winter New York courthouse slows for the Christmas holidays, so too does marketplace activity. But the U.S. Treasury’s actions will be far less hospitable once the verdicts are announced. Atilla may walk free having won the legal battle and the hearts of the jury. But those who forced him to play his highly suspect role will face difficulties both inside and outside Turkey for some time to come.