Kılıçdaroğlu says US indictment of former minister tip of iceberg

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Former European Affairs Minister Egemen Bagış (L), Interior Minister Muammer Güler (C) and Economy Minister Zafer Çağlayan (R), who were forced to resign following a graft scandal in 2013, chat as they wait for the arrival of then- Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan at Esenboga Airport in Ankara December 24,

After an arrest warrant was ordered in the US for a disgraced former Turkish minister, the head of the main opposition party in Turkey said on Saturday that the warrant was only the tip of the iceberg since the addition of one minister to the indictment is only the visible part of the largest corruption scandal in the history of Turkey.

According to Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the whole nation witnessed the plunder of a state by a government in corruption scandals that surfaced in 2013 as he restated the amount of bribes that three Turkish ministers received from Iranian businessman Reza Zarrab to evade US sanctions on Iran.

Addressing his fellow party members during the 94th anniversary celebration of the establishment of Turkey’s main opposition CHP on Saturday, Kılıçdaroğlu listed the bribes as follows:

Former minister Zafer Çağlayan received $52 million excluding an expensive Swiss watch and a piano.

Former minister Muammer Güler received a total of $10 million.

Former minister Egemen Bağış received $1.5 million.

Former director of Halkbank Süleyman Arslan stashed $2.5 million in shoeboxes at home.

On Wednesday, the US District Court for the Southern District of New York issued arrest warrants for former Turkish Economy Minister Mehmet Zafer Çağlayan, former general manager of state-run Halkbank Süleyman Aslan, the bank’s assistant deputy manager of international banking Levent Balkan and Abdullah Happani, an employee of Iranian gold trader Zarrab.

Zarrab was the prime suspect in a graft probe in 2013, along with others from the inner circle of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) government and the then-Prime Minister and present-President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, for having paid bribes to Cabinet-level officials, including Çağlayan and Halkbank General Manager Aslan, to facilitate transactions benefiting Iran.

After Erdoğan cast the case as a coup attempt to overthrow his government orchestrated by his political enemies, several prosecutors were removed from the case, police were reassigned and the investigation against Zarrab was dropped.

Asking the US to reconsider the accusations against the ex-minister, Erdoğan called the measures “purely political” and said, “There are very peculiar smells coming from this.”

In reaction to Erdoğan’s defense of the suspects, Kılıçdaroğlu said on Saturday that in Turkey, they have been holding their noses due to those peculiar smells coming from the corruption investigations. Kılıçdaroğlu also said it is a shame that Turkish ministers are part of a corruption indictment in the US.

“I hope we’ll get a chance to discuss this issue in the United States. You may be a big nation, but being a just nation is something else. Being a just nation requires the legal system to work fairly,” said Erdoğan.

In the superseding indictment on the US PACER (Public Access to Court Electronic Records) system, a handwritten note dated Sept. 6 saying that arrest warrants had been ordered appears at the end of the document charging four people, including Çağlayan, with conspiring to use the US financial system to conduct hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of transactions on behalf of the government of Iran and other Iranian entities barred by US sanctions.

The handwritten note says “Filed Indictment, Arrest Warrants ordered USMJ Parker,” a possible reference to US Magistrate Judge Katherine H. Parker.

The indictment that was filed by Joon H. Kim, the acting US attorney for the Southern District of New York on Wednesday, also charged four defendants with lying to US government officials about those transactions; laundering funds in connection with those transactions including millions of dollars in bribes to Cağlayan and others; and defrauding several financial institutions by concealing the true nature of the transactions.

According to a statement from the US Attorney’s Office on Wednesday, Çağlayan is alleged to have received tens of millions of dollars worth of bribes in cash and jewelry from the proceeds of the scheme to provide services to the government of Iran and to conceal those services from US government officials. Using his position as minister of the economy, Cağlayan directed other members of the scheme, including officers of Halkbank, to engage in certain types of deceptive transactions, approved the steps taken by other members to implement the scheme, and protected the scheme from competitors as well as from scrutiny. As a result, the co-conspirators induced US banks to unknowingly process international financial transactions in violation of sanctions on Iran.

The superseding Indictment further alleges that Çağlayan’s co-defendants – Turkish-Iranian gold trader Reza Zarrab, aka Rıza Sarraf, Halkbank executive Mehmet Hakan Atilla, Mohammad Zarrab, Camelia Jamshidy, aka Kamelia Jamshidy, and Hossein Najafzadeh, who previously were charged in this case with the same offenses – participated in the same crimes.

US authorities arrested Zarrab in Miami in March on charges of helping Iran process millions of dollars of transactions when it faced US sanctions for its nuclear program.

Atilla was also arrested in New York City in late March on similar charges to those of Zarrab.

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