Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu has held the faith-based Gülen movement responsible for the detention of Halkbank Deputy General Manager Mehmet Hakan Atilla in the US on charges of violating US sanctions against Iran.
Atilla was arrested when he arrived at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City on Tuesday as part of an investigation into the violation of US sanctions on Iran. He is accused of conspiring with wealthy Turkish gold trader Reza Zarrab to conduct hundreds of millions of dollars of illegal transactions through US banks on behalf of Iran’s government and other entities in that country.
Speaking to state-run broadcaster TRT Haber on Wednesday, Çavuşoğlu said Atilla was detained based on an indictment prepared by former US Attorney for the Southern District of New York Preet Bharara, who he said had links to the Gülen movement.
“It looks it [the detention order] was prepared beforehand. They took him [Atilla] immediately to court. We are closely following the case,” said the minister.
Zarrab was the prime suspect in a major corruption investigation that became public in December 2013 in which then-Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s inner circle was implicated. Zarrab was arrested by US authorities in Miami in March 2016 on charges of helping Iran process millions of dollars of transactions when it was under US sanctions for its nuclear program.
Erdoğan and pro-government circles have claimed on many occasions that Bharara, who indicted Zarrab, has links to the Gülen movement.
Responding to these allegations, Bharara said in a statement last September that he had just learned Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen’s name from Google and has never been to Turkey. Gülen, who lives in the US in self-imposed exile, is the figure who inspired the Gülen movement with his teachings.
The prosecutor said until the day he was claimed to be a Gülen sympathizer, he had never even heard Gülen’s name and searched for it on Google.
Bharara also said although Turkish President Erdoğan accused him of mingling with Gülen sympathizers in Turkey, he has never been to Turkey.
Bharara was removed from office earlier this month by US President Donald Trump after refusing to submit a letter of resignation as part of an ouster of the remaining US attorneys who were holdovers from the administration of former US President Barack Obama.