Turkish banker Hakan Atilla seeks mistrial in Iran sanctions case in US

Turkish banker Hakan Atilla seeks mistrial in Iran sanctions case in US

NEW YORK - Reuters
Turkish banker Hakan Atilla seeks mistrial in Iran sanctions case in US

Lawyers for a former Turkish bank executive on trial in New York on charges that he helped Iran evade U.S. sanctions asked a judge on Dec. 13 to declare a mistrial, saying testimony by a former Turkish police officer should not have been allowed in court.

Lawyers for former Halkbank deputy general manager Mehmet Hakan Atilla said the jury had been “tainted” after hearing the testimony of Hüseyin Korkmaz, a fugitive police officer sought over links to the Fethullahist Terrorist Organization (FETÖ), the group widely believed to have been behind last year’s coup attempt in Turkey.

Cooperating with the prosecutors, Korkmaz has been testifying against Atilla, but the former banker’s lawyers said Korkmaz presented “inadmissible, confusing and overly prejudicial evidence” during his testimony in a Manhattan federal court.

“The repeated testimony implicating high-level officials in Turkey based on hearsay evidence is inappropriate on many levels,” Atilla’s lawyers said in a letter on Dec. 13 to U.S. District Judge Richard Berman.

Much of Korkmaz’s testimony was focused on how a Turkish criminal investigation in late 2013 ended, with little mention of Atilla. His lawyers faulted Korkmaz for testifying about the Turkish investigation in ways they say violated U.S. trial rules and unfairly prejudiced the jury against their client. 

“Associating the defendant with the specter of mindless and cruel political violence at the hands of his government-based alleged co-conspirators is almost guaranteed to inflame the jury against the defendant,” they also said.

Prosecutors have accused Atilla, 47, of working with Turkish-Iranian businessman Reza Zarrab, 34, and others to help Iran evade U.S. sanctions through fraudulent gold and food transactions.

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 eventually the charges were quashed by the government, which said the probe was masterminded by followers of the U.S.-based Islamic preacher Fethullah Gülen.

Zarrab was arrested in the U.S. last year over evading Iran sanctions, 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.

Korkmaz claimed that Halkbank’s then-general manager, Süleyman Aslan, took bribes from Zarrab, but that there was no evidence Atilla took bribes.

The former police officer said he was reassigned after his investigation became public in 2013, and that in 2014 he was arrested and jailed.

He said he fled Turkey in 2016, soon after he was released.

Korkmaz testified on Dec. 12 that the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) had given him $50,000 in financial assistance after he came to the United States.

On Dec. 13, Korkmaz denied being associated with Gülen while being questioned by Atilla’s lawyers.