Jailed police chiefs who led corruption operations against the government in 2013 were taken to Istanbul police headquarters on Saturday over the testimony of a US Consulate staff member who was arrested on Oct. 4 on espionage charges, the Cumhuriyet daily reported.
According to the report, the three police chiefs — Yakup Saygılı, Kazım Aksoy and Yasin Topçu — will be questioned over the transfer of evidence for a court case in New York in which Mehmet Hakan Atilla, an executive of Turkey’s Halkbank, 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 Atilla stood trial in New York.
The police chiefs will be questioned about their links to Metin Topuz, the US Consulate staff member under arrest, and Hüseyin Korkmaz, a former İstanbul police officer who testified at Atilla’s trial in the US.
Former police chiefs Saygılı and Aksoy were arrested in September 2014, while their wives were taken into custody in November 2017.
Zarrab was the prime suspect in a major corruption investigation in Turkey that became public in December 2013 in which with others from the inner circle of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) government and then-Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan for having paid Cabinet-level officials and bank officers bribes to facilitate transactions benefiting Iran.
After Erdoğan cast the case as a coup attempt to overthrow the government orchestrated by his political enemies, several prosecutors were removed from the case, police were reassigned and the investigation in Turkey against Zarrab was dropped.
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 Jan. 3 reached a verdict of guilty on five counts, including bank fraud and conspiracy, and not guilty on one count of money laundering.
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 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 in 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 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.
President Erdoğan on Jan. 10 claimed that the conviction in a New York court of Turkish banker Atilla on charges of violating US sanctions on Iran is part of an attempt to stage a “new coup” in Turkey.