Turkish-Iranian gold trader Reza Zarrab testified in New York federal court on Thursday that Turkey’s then-prime minister and current president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, personally authorized the involvement of Turkish banks in a scheme to evade US sanctions on Iran, Reuters reported.
Zarrab also said for the first time on Thursday that Turkey’s Ziraat Bank and VakıfBank were involved in the scheme and that former Deputy Prime Minister Ali Babacan signed off with Erdoğan on the operation, according to the Daily Beast.
“The prime minister at that time, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan … had given instructions, had given an order, for [Ziraat and Vakif banks] to start doing the trade,” Zarrab testified.
Zarrab is cooperating with US prosecutors in the trial of Mehmet Hakan Atilla, an executive of Turkey’s state-owned Halkbank accused of helping launder money for Iran.
Zarrab told jurors that he ran an international money laundering scheme to help Iran evade US sanctions and spend its oil and gas revenues abroad. He said he helped Iran use funds deposited at Halkbank to buy gold, which was smuggled to Dubai and sold for cash, Reuters said.
US prosecutors have charged nine people in the case, although only Zarrab and Atilla have been arrested by US authorities. Prosecutors said the defendants were part of a scheme from 2010 to 2015 that involved gold trades and fake purchases of food to give Iran access to international markets, violating US sanctions.
Gold trader Zarrab said Atilla helped design the transactions along with Halkbank’s former general manager, Süleyman Aslan, and that he paid bribes of more than 50 million euros plus $7 million to Mehmet Zafer Çağlayan, Turkey’s economy minister at the time, to further the scheme, as well as to Aslan. He also said on Wednesday that Çağlayan asked for 50 percent of the profits generated by the scheme, which was being run through state-owned Halkbank.
It was Çağlayan who told him of Erdoğan’s approval for Ziraat Bank and Vakıfbank to participate in the scheme, Zarrab said.
The Turkish government has said that Çağlayan acted within Turkish and international law, and Halkbank claims all its transactions complied with national and international regulations.
The Reuters report also said Zarrab admitted on Thursday that he had tried to duplicate his scheme in China but that Chinese banks realized it had something to do with Iran and shut him down.