Erdoğan to discuss ex-minister’s case in US with Trump during UN meeting

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Turkish President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan (L) meets with US President Donald Trump (R) during the G20 Leaders' Summit in Hamburg, Germany on July 07, 2017. AFP

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said on Friday night that he would meet with his US counterpart, Donald Trump, on Sept. 21 on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York and discuss the case of a former Turkish minister for whom US authorities have issued an arrest warrant for conspiring to violate US sanctions on Iran.

Speaking during an interview with A Haber TV on Friday night, Erdoğan said: “There are some problematic issues regarding this period, and the wrongful steps taken by those under President Trump are evidently casting a shadow over Trump’s administration. I don’t think this should be allowed.”

After US District Court for the Southern District of New York indicted former Turkish Economy Minister Mehmet Zafer Çağlayan, former Halkbank general manager Süleyman Aslan, Levent Bakkal and Abdullah Happani and ordered an arrest warrant for them on Sept. 6, Erdoğan said he had told Washington that Turkey had never agreed to comply with its sanctions on Iran and called on the US to review the indictment. He also said Trump had called him and agreed to follow the case more closely.

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 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.

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.

In remarks on Sept. 8, Erdoğan called US action against Çağlayan “purely political” and asked the US to reconsider the accusations against the ex-minister. He said, “There are very peculiar smells coming from this.”

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.

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