U.S. prosecutors have charged a former Turkish economy minister and a former general manager of a state bank with conspiring to evade U.S. sanctions against Iran, with a Turkish minister defending his predecessor.
The charges targeted former economy minister Zafer Çağlayan, former Halkbank general manager Süleyman Aslan and two others, according to the filing, dated on Sept. 6, from the U.S. attorney’s office in the Southern District of New York.
The U.S. indictment broadens a case targeting Turkish-Iranian businessman Reza Zarrab, who is still in prison in the U.S.
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan
has said he believed U.S. authorities had “ulterior motives” in prosecuting Zarrab.
Çağlayan, Aslan and the other two individuals are charged with “conspiring to use the U.S. financial system to conduct hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of transactions on behalf of the Government of Iran
and other Iranian entities, which were barred by United States sanctions.”
They were also accused of lying to U.S. government officials about those transactions, laundering funds and defrauding several financial institutions by concealing the true nature of these transactions, the office added in the filing.
Zarrab was arrested in March 2016 and Hakan Atilla, a deputy general manager of Halkbank, was arrested in March 2017 over charges of cooperating with him. Subsequent to the executive’s arrest, Halkbank said its operations and transactions fully comply with national and international regulations.
“It would appear there is news about our bank and some of its former managers which misleads the public and investors,” Halkbank said in a statement to the Istanbul stock exchange on Sept. 7.
“Çağlayan did not do anything against Turkey’s interests,” Turkish Economy Minister Nihat Zeybekci told reporters on Sept. 7
“It is no concern to Turkey if Çağlayan acted against the interests of other countries,” he said.
Zeybekci also said the case against Çağlayan remained unverified.
“There are claims that sanctions were violated, but those who make these accusations are obliged to prove them,” he said.
U.S. District Judge Richard M. Berman announced on June 12 that final hearings into Zarrab and Atilla’s the will start on October 30, according to various media reports.
Mehmet Hakan Atilla’s lawyer, Victor J. Rocco, reportedly asked on June 9 the court for more time for the purpose of analyzing thousands of e-mails and voice recordings totaling 125 gigabytes that were presented by the prosecutor as evidence in the case. Rocco had asked until August 1 for his legal term to conduct a preliminary study on how much time was needed to analyze all of the data presented as evidence.
Berman, however, on June 12 denied Rocco’s demand for additional time in an interim court decision, indicating that all parties’ opinions were taken, and following evaluations, the final hearings would be launched starting on Oct. 30.
Zarrab was the prime suspect in a corruption and bribery probe involving the Turkish government that went public late in December, 2013. He was accused of being the ringleader of a money laundering and gold smuggling ring in Turkey that circumvented the U.S. sanctions on Iran.
The charges were dismissed after prosecutors investigating the case were accused by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and then-Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan
of plotting against the government and were removed from their posts.
Çağlayan and three other former cabinet members - EU Minister Egemen Bağış Interior Minister Muammer Güler and Urban Planning Minister Erdoğan Bayraktar - were suspects in the probe before their cases were dropped.
Erdoğan and the AKP accused the followers of the U.S.-based Islamic preacher Fethullah Gülen of using the case to plot against the government.
Many Gülenist suspects, including the 2013 probe’s prosecutor Zekeriya Öz, fled Turkey after the failed coup attempt in July, 2016.