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Former Turkish minister wanted in the US returns to Erdoğan’s ruling party

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Former Turkish Economy Minister Zafer Çağlayan, wanted in the United States, has returned to the Justice and Development Party (AKP), columnist Batuhan Çolak wrote in Turkey’s nationalist Yeniçağ newspaper.

According to Batuhan, Çağlayan was selected as an AKP delegate for the southern city of Mersin at the party’s national congress, expected to be held in September, with the approval of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Batuhan shared a list of delegates and a photo of Çağlayan sitting among high-ranking officials during the AKP’s Mersin congress on March 10, which was attended by President Erdoğan.

Turkish banker Mehmet Hakan Atilla and Turkish-Iranian gold trader Reza Zarrab and seven other people, including Çağlayan 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.

In january, a jury in New York federal court found Atilla, an executive of Turkey’s Halkbank charged with participating in a scheme to evade US sanctions on Iran, 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.

Atilla denied he had conspired with Zarrab or that he had been involved in any other wrongdoing.

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

Zarrab testified in early December that he had bribed Turkey’s former economy minister, 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, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, personally authorized the involvement of Turkish banks in the scheme.

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.

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.

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