Turkish officials: Arrest of Turkish banker in US ‘completely political’
ANKARA/NEW YORKThe arrest of a top Turkish banker in the United States on charges of participating in a multi-year scheme to evade sanctions against Iran was a “completely political” move, senior Turkish officials have said, as the details of the FBI file in the case were revealed.
U.S. prosecutors on March 28 charged Mehmet Hakan Atilla, a deputy general manager of Halkbank, with participating in a multi-year scheme to violate U.S. sanctions against Iran. He is accused of conspiring with wealthy Iranian-Turkish gold trader Reza Zarrab to conduct hundreds of millions of dollars of illegal transactions through U.S. banks on behalf of Iran’s government and other entities in that country.
Justice Minister Bekir Bozdağ on March 30 said that the arrest of the banker was “a completely political move.”
“There is no evidence against Zarrab or Turkey in the ongoing court case in the U.S.,” Bozdağ said in a televised interview, Reuters reported.
He also noted the case was designed to tarnish Turkey and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
Atilla, a 47-year-old Turkish citizen, looked somber as he appeared at a brief hearing before U.S. Magistrate Judge James Francis in Manhattan, a day after being arrested at John F. Kennedy International Airport.
The Gülen movement is behind the arrest, according to Bozdağ.
Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu also made similar comments regarding the issue in a joint press conference along with the U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on March 30.
“We have been closely following the issue,” said Çavuşoğlu, adding that consulate-general officials had access to him on March 29.
“We shared our thought about this development with Tillerson. The former U.S. prosecutor [who ran the case] Preet Bharara has links with the Fethullahist Terrorist Organization (FETÖ). We believe this is a political move. [With Tillerson], we agreed to share the required information and documents with each other,” added Çavuşoğlu.
Atilla, Zarrab and others are accused of conspiring to create and use false and fraudulent documents to disguise prohibited transactions for Iran and make those transactions falsely appear as transactions involving food, meaning they would be exempted from the sanctions as humanitarian aid.
The U.S. evidence is based on a number of wiretapped phone conversations involving Zarrab, Atilla and several informants, who are not named, to support its case against the banker, including Zarrab’s reference to the allegedly fake food shipments.
“Do you know what’s stirring the pot?” Zarrab asked one of the confidential informants in a July 2013 phone conversation, according to the U.S. file. “The document you turned in. They wrote Dubai as the origin of the wheat. The man says wheat doesn’t grow in Dubai.”
Prosecutors say that as part of that scheme, Atilla and Zarrab used front companies and fake invoices to trick U.S. banks into processing transactions disguised to appear as though they involved food, and thus were exempt from U.S. sanctions, Reuters reported.
Zarrab, 33, is widely known in Turkey as his name was embroiled in the Dec. 17-25, 2013, corruption probe that embroiled four former ministers and other state officials. Charges against him were later dropped as the government moved to quash the investigations.
Zarrab was arrested in Miami in March last year on charges that could see him sentenced to up to 30 years in prison