Zarrab attempted to transfer his shares before case: Turkish minister
Turkish-Iranian businessman Reza Zarrab, a key witness in the New York trial of a former executive of Turkish state lender Halkbank over violations of Iran sanctions, recently applied to the authorities to transfer his stakes in Turkey-based assets, Customs and Trade Minister Bülent Tüfenkci has said.
“[Zarrab] applied to our ministry two months ago, while he was under arrest in the U.S., for a share transfer,” Tüfenkci told daily Akşam on Dec. 4.
“I ordered the ministry’s staff not to let this happen and we still hold his petition,” he added, suggesting that U.S. prosecutors had given Zarrab some “guarantees” while talking him into becoming a witness in the case, in which he was initially cited as a suspect.
“Accordingly, Zarrab would have transferred his shares from here [Turkey] in order to save his assets. But it was best for us to act smarter than him and not leave this affair in his hands,” Tüfenkci said.
The Istanbul Prosecutor’s Office ordered on Dec. 1 the seizure of assets belonging to Zarrab and his acquaintances, state-run Anadolu Agency reported.
One of the reasons for the seizure was that “the procurement of information should stay secret for the security, internal and foreign political interests of the Turkish Republic and to protect the country from the political and military espionage practices of foreign countries.”
The prosecutor also mentioned names that are likely to smuggle their assets abroad, with a total of 23 people listed among the people whose assets were ordered to be seized.
Since Zarrab became the prosecution’s star witness in the trial, former Halkbank deputy general manager Mehmet Hakan Atilla is now the lone man in the dock, accused of violating sanctions, bribery and money laundering. Zarrab has admitted to bribing former Economy Minister Zafer Çağlayan and being involved in the multi-billion-dollar gold-for-oil scheme.
The complex scheme included fictitious food exports to Iran, and Tüfenkci noted that although such trade moves are not legal, gold trade with Iran was still legal until 2014.
“What we did complies with international law. What should be inspected might be the fictitious exports issue, which Zarrab claimed he had conducted through Dubai. Turkey does not hold the authority to intervene in a process in Dubai. [Zarrab] may be talking like this because he has been cooperating with the U.S. or he may really have conducted such a trade,” he stated.
As the trial of Atilla continues in New York, Istanbul offices linked to Zarrab have effectively turned into abandoned “ghost” buildings since his arrest in the U.S. last year.
Meanwhile, Tüfenkci also said members of the network of U.S.-based Islamic preacher Fethullah Gülen, tried to steal some customs documents in the wake of the July 15, 2016 coup attempt. After this attempt failed these documents were seized and many Gülenists were exposed.
The Turkish government says Gülen’s network was behind the coup attempt and the ongoing Halkbank executive case, claiming it is a plot against the country.
Minister Tüfenkci also argued that a “lobby consisting of Germany, the Netherlands and Austria” was trying to negatively affect capital flows into Turkey, rather than the ongoing state of emergency, imposed shortly after the July coup attempt.