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Erdoğan says Turkey may sue US over Atilla case

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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said Turkey might sue the US over the case of Mehmet Hakan Atilla, an executive of Turkey’s Halkbank convicted of participating in a scheme to evade US sanctions on Iran, underlining that Halkbank has the authority to sue, Hürriyet reported on Sunday.

“If necessary we can sue the US over the Hakan Atilla case. Halkbank has authority to do it. It has smeared our bank on an international level. They can file a countersuit,” Erdoğan told a group of journalists on his way back to Turkey from France.

Upon a question as to why the US has not taken any steps concerning Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen, who has been in self-imposed exile since 1999, despite the fact that it quickly concluded the Atilla case, Erdoğan said: “This shows that the US is behind Pennsylvania. [Gülen].”

Erdoğan accuses Gülen and his movement of orchestrating a failed coup last year, a claim the movement denies.

The jury in the trial of Atilla, an executive of Turkey’s Halkbank charged with participating in a scheme to evade US sanctions on Iran, in US federal court on Wednesday reached a verdict of guilty on five counts, including bank fraud and conspiracy, and not guilty on one count of money laundering.

Atilla and Turkish-Iranian gold trader Reza Zarrab and seven other people, including Turkey’s former economy minister and two additional 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.

Only Zarrab and Atilla are currently in US custody after separately being arrested upon trying to enter the United States in 2016 and 2017, respectively.

Zarrab made a plea deal with prosecutors and has served as the key witness in Atilla’s trial.

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 he paid money to secure his release from prison in Turkey in February 2014 and that those payments were partly bribes.

The Turkish government seized the assets of Zarrab and his relatives following his testimony in the US court.

Hüseyin Korkmaz, a former İstanbul police officer who testified at the New York trial of Atilla, called Erdoğan the “No. 1” target in a group that also included Çağlayan, and Süleyman Aslan, a former chief executive at Halkbank, a large Turkish state-owned bank that was central to the sanction-busting scheme.

Police notes of the Dec. 17, 2013 operations show that Zarrab personally talked 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), run by Bilal Erdoğan, Erdoğan’s son.

Turkey issued detention warrants for six of Korkmaz’s family members following his testimony.

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