Turkish justice minister says Atilla case in New York has already collapsed

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Turkish Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gül- AFP Photo

Turkey’s Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gül on Tuesday said the trial of Mehmet Hakan Atilla, an executive of Turkey’s state-owned Halkbank accused of helping launder money for Iran, lacks a basis in law, saying it collapsed during the hearings, the state-run Anadolu news agency reported.

“When you look at the cross-examination and all phases of the trial, for the time being the case has collapsed. It has no legal validity,” Gül told Kanal24 TV.

Gül also underlined that the case had continued despite the fact that the previous prosecutor, Preet Bharara, was dismissed by US President Donald Trump.

The Turkish minister claimed that both the prosecutor and the judge were linked to the faith-based Gülen movement, declared as a major enemy by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Recalling that he demanded the case be brought to a close in a letter to US Attorney General Jeff Sessions last week, Gül said he has not yet received a response but that he would discuss the issue with Sessions on the phone.

Gül said if a crime is committed in Turkey, it should be tried by Turkish courts. “Turkish courts have already ruled on this issue,” he added.

Ankara’s call came days after testimony by Turkish-Iranian gold trader Reza Zarrab and former Turkish police officer Hüseyin Korkmaz that bankers, ministers and then-Prime Minister Erdoğan were part of a scheme to evade US sanctions on Iran.

Zarrab and eight other people, including Turkey’s former economy minister and three Halkbank executives, were 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 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.

Zarrab testified in New York 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, 2013 file show that Zarrab in July of that year sent an unspecified amount of money to the Service for Youth and Education Foundation of Turkey (TÜRGEV), run by Bilal Erdoğan, Erdoğan’s son.

President Erdoğan on Dec. 5, 2017 said the Zarrab/Atilla case was an international coup attempt against Turkey.

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