Search of ex-Halkbank head’s home revealed bribes from Zarrab, former police officer tells US jury
NEW YORK – Reuters
A former Turkish police investigator on Dec. 11 told jurors in the trial of a Turkish bank executive charged with evading U.S. sanctions on Iran that he found shoeboxes full of cash in the home of another high-ranking Turkish banker.
The former investigator Hüseyin Korkmaz, 30, was testifying in Manhattan federal court for U.S. prosecutors in the trial of Mehmet Hakan Atilla, an executive at the majority state-owned Halkbank accused of taking part in a scheme to evade sanctions with the Turkish-Iranian businessman Reza Zarrab.
Zarrab has pleaded guilty and testified against Atilla for the prosecutors. Atilla has pleaded not guilty.
On Dec. 11, Korkmaz told the jury that he began investigating Zarrab in 2012 for smuggling gold and money laundering.
He said the probe quickly expanded to encompass government officials, including Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, then prime minister, and Zafer Çağlayan, then finance minister, as well as former Halkbank general manager Süleyman Aslan.
Erdoğan has described the 2012-13 investigation a “judicial coup” and has claimed the current U.S. case is politically motivated as well.
Reuters was unable to reach Çaglayan or Aslan for comment. Halkbank has denied involvement with any illegal transactions.
Korkmaz testified that that he ordered searches of multiple individuals’ homes in December 2013 and a search of Aslan’s home had turned up shoeboxes full of cash, which Korkmaz said were bribes from Zarrab. The gold trader previously testified that he bribed Aslan.
Korkmaz testified that soon after the searches, he was reassigned to another unit.
Zarrab’s influence with Turkish officials was such that he was able to have a police chief whom he did not like exiled, Korkmaz said.
He told the jury that he decided to leave Turkey in 2016 because another prosecutor had requested an order for his arrest and he did not feel safe.
U.S. prosecutors have charged a total of nine people in the case with conspiring to help Iran evade sanctions. Only Zarrab, 34, and Atilla, 47, have been arrested by U.S. authorities.
After jurors left the courtroom for lunch, U.S. District Judge Richard Berman said that Atilla’s lawyers had told him they planned to move for a mistrial at the end of Korkmaz’s testimony, on the grounds that it was irrelevant to Atilla.
Berman said he had concerns about the testimony’s relevance as well.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Lockard, one of the prosecutors, said further questions for Korkmaz would address those concerns.