Gülenists ‘paid for’ Turkey hotel expenses of judge in Iran sanctions case

Gülenists ‘paid for’ Turkey hotel expenses of judge in Iran sanctions case

Gülenists ‘paid for’ Turkey hotel expenses of judge in Iran sanctions case

Followers of the U.S.-based Islamic preacher Fethullah Gülen have reportedly paid for the hotel expenses of a judge in the case regarding former Turkish state bank executive, who has been accused of taking part in a scheme to help Iran evade U.S. sanctions.

Gülenists allegedly paid for Judge Richard Berman’s hotel expenses three years ago, when he visited Turkey to attend an event organized by the Yüksel Karkın Küçük (YKK) Attorney Partnership, which is known to have close links to the Fethullahist Terrorist Organization (FETÖ), daily Hürriyet columnist Abdülkadir Selvi wrote in his column on Dec. 21.

Berman is currently the judge of the trial into former Halkbank deputy general manager Mehmet Hakan Atilla, who is accused of violating U.S. sanctions on Iran.

His attendance at the symposium titled “Justice and the Rule of Law,” during which he was the moderator of a panel titled “Independent and Effective Judiciary,” previously made headlines over the organizing law firm’s ties to the Gülenists, the group widely believed to have been behind the July 2016 attempted takeover.

The event was a high-level meeting organized at the Four Seasons Bosphorus, attended by major figures in the legal profession from Europe and the United States.

Upon the controversy surrounding his attendance, Berman made a long explanation in the first court appearance of a Turkish-Iranian businessman, who was arrested last year in the U.S. over evading Iran sanctions.

During businessman Reza Zarrab’s first appearance in court in April 2016, Berman said his participation in the symposium “does not impact his impartiality.”

“My participation in this panel does not impact my ability to preside over this case fairly and impartially, and to ensure that Mr. Zarrab, who is presumed to be innocent, as you all know, receives a fair and impartial hearing and eventual trial,” Berman said at the time.

Zarrab’s name was involved in Turkey’s Dec. 17-25, 2013 corruption probes, which also embroiled four former ministers and other state officials. Zarrab was accused of paying bribes to senior government figures, but the charges were eventually quashed by the government, who said the probe was masterminded by Gülenists.

As Zarrab became the prosecution’s top witness in the trial, Atilla is now the sole man on the dock accused of violating sanctions, bribery and money laundering.

According to Selvi, Berman’s hotel receipt emerged and was reportedly paid by the YKK Partnership on May 20, 2014.

Turkish authorities also questioned Gülen links to the trial in the U.S. after former fugitive police officer Hüseyin Korkmaz, who is being sought over FETÖ in Turkey, had testified against Atilla.

Turkish Justice Minister Abdülhamit Gül recently penned a letter to his U.S. counterpart on the issue, saying he is a known Gülenist in Turkey and thus, needs to be extradited.

Meanwhile, the jury did not reach a verdict on Atilla’s trial on the first day of deliberations on Dec. 20.

The panel of six men and six women are considering six charges against the former banker.

As the three-week trial approaches its end, prosecutors have questioned Atilla on a testimony based on a report prepared by Osman Zeki Canıtez, a fugitive Gülenist.

Defense attorneys were unsuccessful in obtaining a mistrial on the grounds that the report had been introduced late and had not been included in the list of evidence material at the start of the trial.

The “outrageous” move by prosecutors to introduce a report prepared in a foreign country without accurate information was nothing but a ploy to influence the jury, according to defense counsel Cathy Fleming.

“I believe this is a report by somebody who is a fugitive. It is filled with hearsay,” Fleming told the court.

The defense also appealed for a mistrial based on testimony from Korkmaz, who they said has “submitted stolen evidence” and has “testified wrongly.”

Observers predict a verdict will be reached within a couple of days, but if jurors fail to come to a unanimous decision, the judge may declare a mistrial, after which prosecutors will have to decide on whether to retry Atilla.