Mehmet Hakan Atilla, a deputy general manager of Turkish public lender Halkbank, who was arrested in the US in March 2017 on charges of conspiring with Turkish-Iranian businessman Reza Zarrab in order to evade US sanctions against Iran, has requested on Monday 15 Turkish witnesses to be listened to by the court.
According to a report by Hurriyet daily, Atilla’s lawyer, Cathy Fleming, told judge Richard Berman in a hearing on Monday that they had identified and spoken with the 15 witnesses. As these people do not want to travel to the US for the hearing, their testimonies could be taken online, she said.
Fleming said during the hearing that they could only provide the names of the witnesses after the New York court provides them with all the evidence in the case. She recalled that they had appealed the charges against Atilla in the former indictment and they would renew their objections to the newly prepared indictment.
With the inclusion of Turkey’s then-Economy Minister Zafer Çağlayan as one of the suspects in the case, the indictment has been renewed once again. The US indictment broadens a case targeting Turkish-Iranian businessman Zarrab, who is still in prison in the US.
US District Judge Berman told the New York court on Monday that the the new trial, which was set to begin October 30, will not start until November 27 at the earliest, due in part to the newly prepared indictment.
The hearing on Tuesday was watched by Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party’s (CHP) US representative Yurter Özcan and CHP Deputy Chair Erdal Aksünger. Aksünger who attended the hearing on Monday tweeted that both Zarrab and Atilla were brought with their feet in shackles.
Aksünger told Hürriyet daily that he attended into the hearing to identify problems that Turkey could face regarding the case and to make the necessary warnings. He said the list of witnesses that the defense wants to submit to the court could include names “in the role of figurants,” warning that this could lead to “bartering with the US” that could damage Turkey.
According to Aksünger, the judge has not decided on whether the witnesses are required to come to New York or can join via video conference. The prosecutor asked about who the witnesses are. The defense team said that they would provide the names once they make face-to-face meetings with the witnesses during their visit to Turkey. Online news outlet Washington Hattı reported that Aksünger has also pointed out that it is not clear whether the sentencing that is likely to come out of this case is for the defendants in the courtroom or for Turkey.
US prosecutors accuse Atilla of conspiring with Zarrab to conduct hundreds of millions of dollars of illegal transactions through US banks on behalf of Iran’s government and other entities in Iran as they were under US sanctions. Zarrab was arrested in Miami on March 19, 2016 on charges that could see him sentenced to up to 30 years in prison, while Atilla was arrested in New York on March 27, 2017.
Zarrab was charged with 4 accounts, including money laundering, in an alleged racket scheme to help Iran bypass US sanctions against the country, involving ministers of the Turkish government of then prime minister and now Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. The superseding indictment in early September expanded and included Erdoğan’s close ally Çağlayan, as well as Halbank’s former head Süleyman Aslan and deputy head Atilla. Halkbank is Turkey’s largest public bank.
According to the new time-table reported by Washington Hattı, prosecution will submit its final review on October 16; the defense will respond to the prosecution by October 23; the final date to submit name of witnesses, new evidences or suspects by October 30; the final date to object witnesses, evidences or suspects by November 6; the final conference before the trials with grand jury will be November 16; the selection of grand jury members will be held on November 20 and, 21; the start of trials with grand jury will be November 27.