Erdoğan says Turkey may sue US over Atilla case

Turkish autocratic 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.

President Erdoğan has also claimed that the court case in Atilla was found guilty of violating US sanctions on Iran is a clear indication that the US is behind the Pennsylvania-based Turkish-Muslim scholar Fethullah Gülen.

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 case revealed that the US is behind Pennsylvania,” Erdoğan told reporters.

Erdoğan accuses Gülen and his movement of orchestrating a failed coup last year, a claim 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 protection of the US,” he said.

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

The troubled relationship between the two allies has come under further strain from the New York court case that found Hakan Atilla, a former deputy general director of the state-owned Halkbank, guilty of evading US sanctions on Iran through gold-for-oil trade operated by Iranian-Turkish businessman Reza Zarrab.

Ankara accuses the judge of the case, Richard Berman, and his predecessor, 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, state-run Anadolu Agency reported on Jan. 7.

The fast legal process and conviction on Atilla “leaves no doubt” that the US is behind Gülen, Erdoğan also told reporters, bemoaning the fact that the US has “not taken even a 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, Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım has also 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 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.”

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.

Speaking at his party’s ordinary district congress in the central Yozgat province, Turkish deputy PM Bekir Bozdag has also claimed that Richard Berman, the judge in the Hakan Atilla case, was supported by FETO. “The prosecutor [in the case] is a person who was encouraged by FETO members and who supports Dec. 17-25,” he added, referring to a 2013 probe that led to the detention of prominent officials.

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

On Friday Turkish President 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.

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. (SCF with turkishminute.com)

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