Turkey slams US verdict finding Turkish banker Hakan Atilla guilty
Turkish officials unanimously criticized on Jan. 4 a U.S. court verdict that found Hakan Atilla, the former deputy chief executive officer of state lender Halkbank, guilty of helping Iran evade U.S. sanctions.
“This is the scandalous verdict of a scandalous case,” Presidential Spokesperson İbrahim Kalın told reporters at the presidential complex in Ankara on Jan. 4.
“From the beginning [of the process] it was loud and clear that this was a plot to intervene in Turkey’s domestic affairs,” Kalın added.
The Foreign Ministry on Jan. 4 also described the New York court verdict as “unjust and unfortunate,” saying the trial was based on “evidence that was fake and open to political exploitation.”
It also said the trial amounted to “interference in Turkey’s internal affairs,” arguing that the involvement of figures linked to the network of Pennsylvania-based Islamic preacher Fethullah Gülen in the court proceedings “undermined the credibility of trial.”
Atilla was found guilty on Jan. 3 by a jury in New York on five charges related to conspiracy and bank fraud related to violating sanctions on Iran. He was acquitted of money laundering.
Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gül said Turkey “does not recognize” the U.S. court decision.
“Universal law has obviously been violated with this decision, which the jury gave based on the testimony of a person who once was considered a suspect of the case,” Gül said, referring to Turkish-Iranian businessman Reza Zarrab.
Zarrab was arrested in the U.S. in 2016 on similar charges and pleaded guilty prior to the start of the trial before he testified for prosecutors against Atilla.
“Turkey is an independent sovereign state. Another country cannot try Turkey or its departments,” Bozdağ added, describing the case as a politically-motivated “plot.”
He claimed that the case stands as an example of the cooperation between the CIA, the FBI, the U.S. government, and the Fethullahist Terror Organization (FETÖ), referring to the Gülen network.
“As Turkey does not bow before terror organizations, it will also not bow before the authority managing the terror networks,” Bozdağ tweeted.
Judge Richard Berman will sentence Atilla on April 11 but defense attorneys said they would immediately appeal the verdict after sentencing.
The verdict by a panel of six men and six women against Atilla, 47, was reached after more than three weeks of testimony and four days of deliberation.
The guilty counts include violating U.S. sanctions against Iran, crimes to deceive the U.S. and defrauding U.S. banks.
“I am disappointed that the jury believed in [Reza] Zarrab and they did not see the picture. It is disappointing for people who like Atilla,” Katy Fleming, one of Atilla’s lawyers, told a small group of reporters after the verdict, referring to Zarrab, the government’s star witness and on whose testimony the case hinged.
The case has driven a further wedge between Washington and Ankara, which have had strained relations in the recent past on a number of key issues.
Defense lawyer Victor Rocco said his client was a victim of “some bizarre game.”
“He is caught up in the middle of something. This was Reza’s show. It has nothing to do with Atilla,” he said outside the court following the verdict.
“He is innocent and he intends to continue to fight,” Rocco added.
Atilla was arrested after visiting the U.S. last March on a business trip. Zarrab, a celebrity of sorts in Turkey because of his wealth and marriage to Turkish pop star and TV personality Ebru Gündeş, was arrested in 2016 when he flew to Florida to take his wife and child to Disney World.
Before the trial, Turkey officials called Zarrab, 34, a “hostage” before he agreed to cooperate with prosecutors.