Turkey did not breach Iran sanctions: Erdoğan
Turkey pursued a legal policy in its energy trade with Iran and did not breach any sanctions, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has said, amid harsh reactions from Ankara over the ongoing trial in New York in which gold-trader Reza Zarrab is testifying.
“We have trade and energy ties with Iran. We did not breach the sanctions [on Iran]. Whatever the verdict is, we did the right thing. We have never made commitments to the U.S. [on our energy ties with Iran],” Erdoğan reportedly told ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) deputies at a closed-doors party meeting early on Nov. 30.
“The world is not only about the U.S. We also have trade and energy relations with Iran,” he said.
The meeting came amid an ongoing court case in which Hakan Attila, a former senior official of the public lender Halkbank, stands as the sole defendant accused of bypassing U.S. sanctions on Iran through gas-for-gold scheme operated by Zarrab, a Turkish-Iranian businessman. He began cooperating with the U.S. prosecutors and on Nov. 29 started testifying about how he bypassed sanctions and bribed senior Turkish government officials.
There are concerns that the Halkbank could face a serious fine as a result of the ongoing court case. The Turkish government, however, has characterized the trial as a “theater” that targets the credibility of Turkey and President Erdoğan.
“The objective of this trial is to destroy their credibility and harm them in the eyes of the Turkish public and the world. That is clear,” Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdağ told state-run Anadolu Agency on the morning of Nov 30.
Bozdağ argued that both the judge and the prosecutor of this case have close ties to the Fethullahist Terror Organization (FETÖ) and evidence submitted court is “fabricated and illegal.”
“What justice can we expect from such a court?” he said, claiming that similar accusations against the government were made in the December 2013 corruption probes.
“This is just the beginning. We will hear more such slanders as we go to elections in 2019,” he said, referring to presidential and parliamentary polls due to be held. “But whatever they do, they can never eliminate the respect and love of the Turkish people for our president.”
‘Turkey will overcome this plot’
AKP spokesman Mahir Ünal also suggested that Zarrab was being kept as a “hostage” in the U.S. and was being forced to testify against Turkey and the Turkish government.
“We observe that some people’s hopes are rising over accusations being voiced by a man being strangely held as a hostage. Our response to them is that we will not remain idle against efforts to corner us economically and politically,” Ünal told reporters.
“The whole nation sees what’s being done against Turkey. Everything is obvious. Turkey will overcome this as it did in the past,” he said.
CHP: Zarrab was in state protocol until yesterday
Meanwhile, main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu called on the government to “resign,” amid Zarrab’s testimony about “$45 million or $50 million” bribes on Nov. 29.
“Zarrab was occupying a seat in the state protocol until yesterday. They called him a charitable businessman. Now he has become their foe. Why? Because he has started confessing,” Kılıçdaroğlu said.
The CHP head denied that the case in New York is a “national issue” for Turkey, saying it is simply about “corruption and theft.”
“What saddens me most is the fact that all this happened in Turkey and we all know about it, but the trial is taking place in the U.S. Our ministers and those who took bribes are here but we cannot try them in courts here,” he added.