Erdoğan is poised to survive the Zarrab affair
Many people in Turkey are wondering whether confessions by Reza Zarrab, revealing how he bribed government and state officials to circumvent U.S. sanctions on Iran, will harm President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
Erdoğan’s name was mentioned in the court in New York, but only in passing and on the basis of a second hand account. Zarrab said former Economy Minister Zafer Çağlayan, who Zarrab alleges he showered with bribes, told him that Erdoğan instructed two state banks to cooperate with him
Experienced U.S. court reporters found it curious that the judge made no issue of this claim and let the proceedings simply move on. Whether this is normal or not, it strengthened the hand of those claiming that this is a politically motivated case. The judge could have reminded the jury that what Zarrab said about Erdoğan was second hand information, but he didn’t.
Regardless of how this case proceeds, Erdoğan has a good chance of being able to turn it to his advantage, having seen what Zarrab’s best shot against him is. If Zarrab had a better shot he would clearly not have held back.
Erdoğan is right when he says that U.S. sanctions are not binding on Turkey because they are not sanctions agreed on by the U.N. That is what he is basing his argument in this case on. His weakness, however, is that people are not really concerned with this issue.
What they really want to know is whether Zarrab’s allegations that Erdoğan’s former ministers, starting with Caglayan, as well as the head of a state bank, received tens of millions of dollars in bribes.
The people accused by Zarrab were indicted and some – including Zarrab himself – were arrested on similar charges in Turkey in December 2013. These cases were promptly dropped after the government intervened, claiming that they had been initiated by supporters in the judiciary of Fethullah Gülen, the Pennsylvania-based Islamic preacher accused of masterminding the July 2016 military coup attempt.
This turns out to be the trap that Erdoğan and his government have fallen into. Almost everyone today agrees that if Zarrab and the others accused in 2013, had been tried in Turkey, matters would not have come to a head in the U.S. as they have done today.
However, if those accused by Zarrab in New York face new indictments in Turkey, Erdoğan could save the day for himself. But there is an obvious question that comes to mind at this point: What if those indicted in Turkey implicate Erdoğan or members of his family?
The judiciary in Turkey today is under executive control. The ruling party has an active and effective propaganda apparatus in place. Erdoğan has a dedicated following that believes he has achieved an Islamic revolution of sorts in Turkey, which could be rolled back if he leaves the scene.
With all of this working for him, Erdoğan will easily be able to survive this affair at home. Ironically Zarrab, who is now also the subject of indictments in Turkey, is also set to survive it.
There are reports in the U.S. media that he is likely to have been promised residency in U.S., after he serves any sentence. He may not even receive any sentence, but if he does it is likely to be minimal given his cooperation with the prosecution.
So the only fall guy will be Mehmet Hakan Atilla, the former deputy head of state lender Halkbank. Atilla is now the only one being tried in New York and - by Zarrab’s own admission - he did not even receive any bribes, but rather was forced to follow orders from above.
Unless, that is, Erdoğan issues an order for those accused of taking bribes in Turkey to also be pursued, even if they were let off in 2013. Former Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu is the only member of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) who has come out to say this should happen.
Zarrab has now spilled all the beans that the Turks are interested in. All eyes in the country will now be turned to what happens to those accused by him in Turkey.
How Erdoğan manages this process will be politically critical.