Warrants issued for parents of US sanction case’s Turkish witness
NEW YORK – Reuters
A Turkish court has issued warrants for the parents of a fugitive police officer who testified during a New York trial into a former Turkish state bank executive accused of taking part in a scheme to help Iran evade U.S. sanctions.
Hüseyin Korkmaz, a policeman sought in Turkey over being a follower of the U.S.-based Islamic preacher Fethullah Gülen, previously said he gave documents related to a 2013 graft probe in Turkey to his mother, prompting the authorities to issue the warrants.
Korkmaz’s name has been on the agenda since he started testifying against former Halkbank deputy general manager Mehmet Hakan Atilla in the Iran sanctions case.
Turkish Justice Minister Abdülhamit Gül recently penned a letter to his U.S. counterpart Jeff Sessions, warning him of Korkmaz’s links to the Fethullahist Terrorist Organization (FETÖ), widely believed to have been behind Turkey’s July 2016 coup attempt, while also asking for his extradition.
The minister also said Korkmaz had been determined to be a user of ByLock, a smartphone application used for communication by Gülenists.
In his testimony in the U.S., Korkmaz said he gave documents related to the Dec. 17, 2013 corruption probe, which embroiled four former ministers, state officials and Turkish-Iranian businessman Reza Zarrab, who has also been testifying against Atilla, to his mother.
“I gave the documents to my mother for her to keep them,” he reportedly said in the U.S.
Turkey’s Dec. 17-25, 2013 corruption probes were quashed by the government, which said they were masterminded by the Gülenists.
Prosecutors have been investigating how Korkmaz fled Turkey and what he said during his testimony in the U.S.
After finding out Korkmaz’s remarks on him giving documents to his mother, the Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office’s Anti-Terror and Organized Crime Bureau issued detention warrants for his parents, followed by a court issuing warrants since they could not be found.
Another warrant was issued for Korkmaz’s lawyer, who was also determined to be a ByLock user.
Prosecutors also say lawyer Ertuğrul Gazi Alperen organized Korkmaz’s escape from Turkey and that he currently lives in the U.K.
Moreover, warrants were also issued for Korkmaz’s wife, brother and two sisters.
Meanwhile, U.S. prosecutors on Dec. 19 urged a New York jury to find Atilla guilty of helping Iran evade U.S. sanctions, while Atilla’s lawyers said he was a “blameless pawn.”
The closing arguments in a Manhattan federal court capped off a three-week trial that has strained diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Turkey.
“This is a case about lies,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Lockard told the jury, saying Atilla lied to U.S. authorities that Halkbank was complying with sanctions.
Halkbank has denied involvement in illegal activities.
Lockard pointed to the testimony of Zarrab, who was arrested in the U.S. last year but as he became the prosecution’s top witness in the trial, Atilla is now the sole man in the dock accused of violating sanctions, bribery and money laundering.
Zarrab testified that Atilla helped design fraudulent gold and food transactions that allowed Iran to spend its oil and gas revenues abroad, including through U.S. financial institutions, defying U.S. sanctions.
Atilla denied conspiring with Zarrab while testifying in his own defense during the trial.
Lockard said Zarrab’s testimony was supported by other evidence, including an April 2013 message in which Halkbank’s then-general manager, Süleyman Aslan, asked Zarrab if he had any problem with “the method proposed by Hakan Atilla.”
Lockard also said that Zarrab’s scheme continued even as Aslan and others at the bank were replaced. “The only person who’s been involved at every step is Mr. Atilla,” he said.
Atilla’s lawyer, Victor Rocco, said Zarrab was not credible. He noted that Zarrab had hired prominent American lawyers to try to negotiate his release through diplomacy, and said he decided to turn on Atilla after that failed.
“Hakan Atilla is a blameless pawn, collateral damage in a story that belongs in The Twilight Zone, not in American court,” Rocco said.
Rocco argued that evidence pointed to Atilla’s innocence. He cited a call in which Zarrab told one of his employees that Atilla “threw a wrench in the gears,” but that Zarrab resolved the problem by going to Aslan.
Rocco also pointed to an April 2013 call in which Zarrab said he lied to Atilla, even though Zarrab had said Atilla was already in on the scheme by October 2012.
“If in October 2012 Hakan Atilla was part of a conspiracy with Zarrab, why is Zarrab lying to him six months later?” Rocco asked.
U.S. prosecutors charged nine people in the criminal case, though only Zarrab, 34, and Atilla, 47, have been arrested by U.S. authorities.
U.S. District Judge Richard Berman was set to instruct the jury early on Dec. 20, after which jurors are expected to begin deliberating on the case.