Turkish PM says US tried to convict Turkey via banker Atilla verdict

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KIRSEHIR, TURKEY - JANUARY 06: Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim addresses to people during the 6th provincial congress of Turkey's ruling Justice and Development (AKP) in Kırşehir, Turkey on January 06, 2018. AFP Photo

Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım said on Saturday that the conviction in New York of a Turkish banker accused of helping Iran evade sanctions aims to put blame on Turkey in international platforms.

Speaking at a provincial congress of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) in the central province of Nevşehir on Saturday, Yıldırım said: “They have massacred the law in this case. They are trying to convict Turkey through [Halkbank deputy general manager Mehmet] Hakan Atilla. This is the deal. And who is doing this? The [US] judges and prosecutors who have linked arms with FETÖ. We’ll spoil all of the games directed at our country.”

FETÖ or FETO is an abbreviation of Fethullahist Terrorist Organization that Erdoğan and AKP government circles use to refer to the Gülen movement.

The jury in Atilla’s trial on Wednesday reached a verdict of guilty on five counts, including bank fraud and conspiracy, and not guilty on one count of money laundering. His trial included testimony suggesting high-level corruption in Turkey.

“And then they say to the jury members, ‘Do not avoid charging [Atilla] even if there is no concrete evidence. Such evidence does not need to exist, you can continue to accuse [him].’ And then they call it an independent judiciary. Those who try to give us legal lessons have massacred the law in this case,” Yıldırım said.

On Friday Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan slammed the conviction in New York, saying the US justice system poses a danger for the world.

According to AP, Erdoğan told reporters in Paris on late Friday that the trial of Atilla in the US was a conspiracy against his government.

Erdoğan also accused the US of “disrespecting” the Turkish judiciary for failing to extradite US-based Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen, who Turkey blames for a failed coup in summer 2016. Gülen denies any involvement in the coup attempt.

Atilla, Reza Zarrab, a Turkish-Iranian gold trader arrested in the US for evading US sanctions against Iran, 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.

He 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.

He also 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 made payments to secure his release 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.

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