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Recording confirms Zarrab said Erdoğan backed Iran sanctions scheme

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (L) and Reza Zarrab

A recording released by a New York court as evidence in the case of a Turkish banking executive standing trial on charges of evading US sanctions on Iran has provided evidence that Turkish-Iranian gold trader Reza Zarrab, one of the masterminds behind the scheme, told others involved that it had the backing of then-Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and then-Deputy Prime Minister Ali Babacan, the Ahval news website reported.

“Now, we started [the scheme through] Ziraat and Vakıf [state banks] as well,” Zarrab told Özgür Erker, a senior official at Arap-Türk Bank, according to the official court transcript.

“I spoke with Ankara,” Zarrab said.

“Mr. Prime Minister and Ali Babacan gave approval. It’s finished already.”

In another recording of a phone call released yesterday, Süleyman Aslan, the CEO of Turkish state-owned Halkbank, was heard making references to the scheme and saying that he was discussing it with “Mr. Minister,” a possible reference to then-Economy Minister Zafer Çağlayan, who is alleged to have been heavily involved in the scheme.

Zarrab is alleged to have trafficked hundreds of millions of dollars to Iran in violation of US sanctions in collaboration with Turkish bankers and public officials.

After Zarrab agreed to a plea bargain, former Halkbank executive Mehmet Hakan Atilla became the only defendant in the case.

Based on notes sent to the judge by the jury, reports have suggested that jurors may have differences over the degree to which Atilla is guilty of the charges leveled against him.

The jury has been released for the holidays and will resume deliberations on the case on Jan. 3, 2018.

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