Economy minister protests detention of Halkbank’s Atilla in US

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Turkish Economy Minister Nihat Zeybekci / AFP PHOTO / FAYEZ NURELDINE

Turkey’s Economy Minister Nihat Zeybekci on Thursday reacted to the detention of Halkbank Deputy General Manager Mehmet Hakan Atilla in the US on charges of violating US sanctions against Iran, labeling it a “mischievous” act, DHA reported.

“Trapping the deputy general manager of a Turkish bank, waiting behind the door and engaging in opportunism are against the rules of grace, friendship and good intentions. This is a rude attempt. We clearly do not accept it. We primarily protest the method,” said Zeybekçi during a press conference in the Çardak district of Denizli province.

Expressing that Turkey has cooperated with the US on all issues up until now, Zeybekçi said: “They did not ask for information. If they had, Turkey would have carried through with it. I see this act as disrespectful to Turkey. I protest it.”

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.

On Wednesday Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu held the faith-based Gülen movement responsible for the detention of Atilla in the US.

Speaking to state-run broadcaster TRT Haber, 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.

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.

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