Turkey calls on US to end Atilla case and extradite police officer

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Abdulhamit Gül

Turkey’s Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gül has called on his US counterpart to end the trial of Mehmet Hakan Atilla, an executive of Turkey’s state-owned Halkbank accused of helping launder money for Iran, and extradite former Turkish police officer Hüseyin Korkmaz, the state-run Anadolu news agency reported.

“We have asked our American counterpart to bring an end to this unlawful [case],” Gül told reporters in Samsun province on Saturday.

Ankara’s call came days after testimony from Turkish-Iranian gold trader Reza Zarrab and the police officer that bankers, ministers and then-Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan were part of a scheme evading US sanctions on Iran.

In his letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions sent earlier this week, Gül wrote: “We see with regret that this case, which was opened to protect the financial interests of the US, is now proceeding to serve the purpose of completing the unfinished operation of a terrorist organization against Turkey.”

The minister said it was the duty of Turkish courts to judge if a crime had been committed or not.

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.

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 Recep Tayyip 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.

Zarrab testified in federal court in early December that he had bribed Turkey’s former economy minister, Mehmet Zafer Çağlayan, in a billion-dollar scheme to smuggle gold for oil in violation of US sanctions on Iran.

Zarrab said that Turkey’s then-prime minister and current president, Erdoğan, personally authorized the involvement of Turkish banks in the scheme.

Zarrab also said 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.
The Turkish-Iranian gold trader said he made payments to secure his release in February 2014 and that those payments were partly bribes.

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) CHP Chairman Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu on Dec. 5 shared an intelligence report showing that President Erdoğan was warned about Zarrab’s relationships with several ministers.

Police notes of the Dec. 17 operations show that Zarrab personally spoke with Erdoğan on April 13, 2013 and asked for an official police guard. Erdoğan and his Cabinet approved it immediately.

A phone call and a video in the Dec.17 file show that Zarrab in July 2013 sent an unspecified amount of money to the Service for Youth and Education Foundation of Turkey (TÜRGEV), a foundation run by Bilal Erdoğan, Erdoğan’s son.

President Erdoğan on Dec. 5 said the Zarrab/Atilla case was an international coup attempt against Turkey.

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