Erdoğan claims conviction of Atilla part of a ‘new coup attempt’ against Turkey

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President of Turkey and Leader of the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) Recep Tayyip Erdoğan delivers a speech during his party's group meeting at the Grand National Assembly of Turkey (TBMM) in Ankara, on January 9, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / ADEM ALTAN

The conviction in a New York court of Turkish banker Mehmet Hakan Atilla on charges of violating US sanctions on Iran is part of an attempt to stage a “new coup” in Turkey, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan claimed on Tuesday.

“Those who were unable to succeed in the coup attempt in Turkey on July 15, 2016 are now searching for a different means [of carrying out a coup] in our country,” Erdoğan said during an address to his ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) parliamentary group.

“The case [against Atilla] in the US is the source of this political coup attempt,” he added.

President Erdoğan also alleged that it was an attempt aimed at cornering Turkey economically through the CIA, the FBI and FETÖ.

“FETÖ or “FETO” is a derogatory acronym which Erdoğan and his AKP government circles use to refer to the faith-based Gülen movement.

Atilla, the 47-year-old former deputy chief executive officer of state lender Halkbank, was found guilty on Jan. 4 of violating US sanctions against Iran, committing crimes to deceive the US and defrauding US banks. The verdict came after more than three weeks of testimony and four days of deliberations.

Erdoğan had said on Saturday that Turkey might sue the US over the Atilla case, underlining that Halkbank has the authority to sue. “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.

President Erdoğan has also claimed that the trial in which Atilla was found guilty of violating US sanctions on Iran is a clear indication that the US is behind Pennsylvania-based Turkish-Muslim scholar Fethullah Gülen, whose views have inspired the Gülen movement.

Upon a question as to why the US has not taken any steps concerning Gülen, who has been in self-imposed exile in the US since 1999, despite the fact that it quickly concluded the Atilla case, Erdoğan said, “This case has revealed that the US is behind ‘Pennsylvania’.”

Erdoğan accuses Gülen and his movement of orchestrating a failed coup last year, an allegation the movement denies. “It is the US that has allocated 400 acres of land and supported the leader of FETÖ in the US. All Gülen’s villas are under the protection of the US,” he said.

The troubled relationship between the two allies has come under further pressure from the New York trial that found Atilla guilty of evading US sanctions on Iran through a gold-for-oil trade scheme operated by Iranian-Turkish businessman Reza Zarrab.

Ankara accuses Judge Richard Berman and the former US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Preet Bharara, of “collaborating with FETÖ against Turkey.”

“This is an incident in which the FBI, the CIA and Judge Richard Berman have been caught red-handed while carrying out what FETÖ terrorists failed to do through the Dec. 17 and 25 [2013 corruption cases],” Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdağ recently said.

The speedy legal process and conviction of Atilla “leaves no doubt” that the US is behind Gülen, Erdoğan also told reporters, complaining that the US has “not taken even one step on Turkey’s demand for the extradition of Gülen, despite dozens of documents and evidence being submitted by the Justice Ministry.”

“But we will continue to pursue him,” he vowed.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım said on Saturday that the conviction in New York aims to put blame on Turkey in international platforms.

Speaking at a provincial congress of the ruling 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 Hakan Atilla. This is the deal. And who is doing this? The [US] judges and prosecutors who have linked arms with FETÖ. We will spoil all the games directed at our country.”

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.

“They told the members of the jury: ‘Do not avoid convicting [Atilla] even if there is no concrete evidence. Such evidence does not need to exist; you can [convict him].’ And then they call it an independent judiciary. Those who have tried to give us a lesson in jurisprudence have massacred the law in this case,” Yıldırım said.

Speaking at his party’s ordinary district congress in the central Yozgat province, Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdağ also claimed that Judge Berman was supported by Gülen movement.

“The prosecutor [in the case] is someone who was encouraged by FETO members and who supported Dec. 17-25,” he added, referring to a 2013 investigation that led to the detention of prominent officials.

The person US officials called “the most important eyewitness” in the case is a former deputy police chief and FETO member, said Bozdağ. Bozdağ has claimed the case was a continuation of the December 2013 plot against government ministers and leading businesspeople coordinated by the FBI, the CIA and Berman.

On Friday 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 Turkish Islamic scholar Gülen, who Turkey blames for a failed coup in summer 2016. Gülen denies any involvement in the coup attempt.

Atilla and Turkish-Iranian gold trader 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.
(Stockholm Center for Freedom [SCF] with Turkish Minute)

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