Erdoğan on Zarrab case: Whatever the ruling, we did nothing wrong

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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (L) receives Chief of Turkish National Intelligence Agency (MIT) Hakan Fidan (R) at Presidential Complex in Ankara, Turkey on November 30, 2017. Kayhan Ozer / Anadolu Agency

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Thursday reacted to a case in New York in which Turkish-Iranian gold trader Reza Zarrab confessed that he had bribed Turkey’s former economy minister to facilitate the violation of US sanctions on Iran, saying, “Whatever ruling emerges from the court, Ankara did not do anything wrong,” the Milliyet daily reported.

According to the report, during a meeting with his Justice and Development Party (AKP) deputies in Ankara, Erdoğan said: “We did not violate the sanctions [against Iran]. We never promised the US government not to violate them. The US is not the only country in the world. Turkey has economic relations with Iran.”

Zarrab testified in federal court on Wednesday that he had bribed Turkey’s former economy minister, Mehmet Zafer Çağlayan, between 45 and 50 million euros in 2012 and 2013 in order to secure his help in facilitating an oil-for-gold trading scheme to get around US sanctions on Iran.

Zarrab also said he obtained the help of Turkey’s former EU Minister Egeman Bağış to process Iranian transactions through Turkey’s Aktif Bank.

Zarrab and eight other people, including Turkey’s former economy minister and three Halkbank executives, have been charged with engaging in transactions worth hundreds of millions of dollars for Iran’s government and Iranian entities from 2010 to 2015 in a scheme to evade US sanctions.

The Turkish government and President Erdoğan have said the case has been fabricated for political motives, exacerbating tensions between Ankara and Washington, NATO allies.

Zarrab was the prime suspect in a major corruption investigation in Turkey that became public in December 2013 and implicated the inner circle of the ruling AKP government and then-Prime Minister Erdoğan. Zarrab was alleged to have paid Cabinet-level officials and bank officers bribes 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 Turkey.

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