Why does Turkey still protect Zarrab?
While all eyes were on New York for the “U.S. vs. Mehmet Hakan Atilla” case that was about to begin, the head of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu revealed documents of multi-million dollar transactions of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s family members to an overseas account.
“It’s time to open the box,” Kılıçdaroğlu said on Nov. 28, brandishing evidence about the financial transactions of Erdoğan’s sons to a company based on the Isle of Man in 2011 and 2012.
This came after Erdoğan challenged the CHP head to prove the claims that he has been making over the last 10 days, vowing to resign if he could do so. He said Kılıçdaroğlu himself should resign if he failed to prove his claims.
The way that Kılıçdaroğlu spoke at his parliamentary group has been interpreted as meaning that more evidence on the financial moves of Erdoğan’s family members is being held at the CHP, which will soon be publicized.
Just an hour before these documents were exposed, Erdoğan harshly slammed Kılıçdaroğlu for “turning the main opposition party into the main treason party.”
Speaking at the ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) parliamentary group meeting, Erdoğan also hinted that the CHP leader’s moves would not be left “unanswered.” It looks like political tension in Turkey will further ramp up in the coming days.
The timing of this debate is crucially important, as it coincides with the start of the highly significant case in New York. It is no longer called the “Zarrab case,” because Turkish-Iranian gold trader Reza Zarrab is no longer a defendant in the case and is instead one of the potential witnesses, as an “alleged co-conspirator.”
Now it is only Hakan Attila, the former deputy general of Halkbank, who stands as the sole defendant in the case. And there are concerns that Zarrab’s confessions during the trial will cause further damage to Turkey’s image, the credibility of its banking system, and the credibility of its leadership.
Many in the government and the AKP believe that Zarrab’s decision to travel to the United States in March 2016 was a planned move. This is why they are questioning how government agencies failed to stop his escape. As expected, Zarrab is cooperating with the prosecutor and will likely enjoy a witness protection program.
An interesting point is the fact that the Turkish government and senior officials are still trying to protect Zarrab, claiming he being kept as a “hostage” at the hands of the U.S. government.
Ankara has engaged in efforts to defame the prosecutor and the judge of the case, taking legal action against what it calls “fabricated” evidence at the basis of the case. The extent to which they can influence a judicial process in the United States it is highly doubtful.
The launch of the court case in the U.S. and new documents about money transactions publicized by the CHP will certainly put more pressure on the government in the near term. Erdoğan’s lawyers have been quick to deny all allegations about off-shore money transfers, but doing the same for Zarrab’s testimony will not be easy.
Will the Turkish government still be able to defend this controversial gold trader as the trial proceeds? Defending Zarrab, a powder keg, certainly looks irrational for the Turkish government. We will all see how long it will continue.