Michael Rubin, academic and former staff advisor for Iran and Iraq at the Pentagon, has stated that the inclusion of Zafer Çağlayan, as one of Turkey’s autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s former cabinet ministers, in the case file of Reza Zarrab, could be a sign that Zarrab is talking to prosecutors and giving evidence.
Giving an interview to pro-Kurdish Fırat news agency, Michael Rubin has said that “That’s Erdoğan’s nightmare, because if Zarrab is talking, then Zarrab is also likely talking about Erdoğan’s dealings. And the thing with judicial proceedings is that they will become public. Erdoğan can complain that it’s a conspiracy against him, but the evidence is there and fewer people — at least outside his core supporters — believes him anymore. Certainly, the warrant on Çağlayan will undercut Washington-Ankara relations but, the US judiciary is independent and, regardless, US officials simply don’t care anymore what Erdoğan thinks.”
Pointing out that this issue could go beyond Çağlayan and extend to some other persons or institutions, Rubin has underlined that “Because in Turkey, the corruption and the shady dealings didn’t stop with Zarrab and Çağlayan. Ultimately, the finger will point at Erdoğan. That said, as the head of state, there’s little that the United States can do other than expose the information. That said, it would not be wise for his family members to visit the United States ever again.”
Regarding the possibility that the US judiciary could backpedal at this stage, Rubin stated this is not the case as Çağlayan isn’t in the United States and Erdoğan won’t extradite him. “The case may not go forward, but it won’t disappear,” he said.
As Erdoğan will be visiting the US in mid-September, Fırat news agency reporter asked Rubin if this issue could be negotiated and overcome through talks with the US administration. He answered by saying that “The independence of the judiciary means that neither Trump nor Secretary of State Rex Tillerson would have the power to meet Erdoğan’s demands should Erdoğan be stupid enough to make them. And, frankly, everyone is just going to be watching to see who Erdoğan’s bodyguards try to attack this time.”
Commenting on the reports by mouthpieces of the Erdoğan media that described this case as the US war against Turkey, Rubin said: “It’s nonsense. Erdoğan is facing consequences for his bad decisions. His aidies sought to use US-based banks to conduct activities illegal under US law. Turkey is the victim of Erdoğan, not of the United States.”
Rubin remarked that he doubts any of these suspects will want to travel to Germany anytime soon, adding: “Erdoğan may see himself as the new sultan, but most countries see him as the world’s biggest jackass. Simply put, his threats have backfired and few countries care what he says.”
Rubin stressed that: “It appears Zarrab is talking. he is the man who knows too much. And the whole reason he came to the US is that he knew that in Turkey or Iran, he would likely be killed. In the US, he may be imprisoned, but he will be safe. And, someday he could walk free if he becomes an informant against men like Çağlayan and Erdoğan.”
On last Wednesday, the US District Court for the Southern District of New York issued arrest warrants for former Turkish Economy Minister Mehmet Zafer Çağlayan, former general manager of state-run Halkbank Süleyman Aslan, the bank’s assistant deputy manager of international banking Levent Balkan and Abdullah Happani, an employee of Iranian gold trader Zarrab.
Zarrab was the prime suspect in a graft probe in 2013, along with others from the inner circle of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) government and the then-Prime Minister and present-President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, for having paid bribes to Cabinet-level officials, including Çağlayan and Halkbank General Manager Aslan, to facilitate transactions benefiting Iran.
After Erdoğan cast the case as a coup attempt to overthrow his government orchestrated by his political enemies, several prosecutors were removed from the case, police were reassigned and the investigation against Zarrab was dropped.
Asking the US to reconsider the accusations against the ex-minister, Erdoğan called the measures “purely political” and said, “There are very peculiar smells coming from this.”
In reaction to Erdoğan’s defense of the suspects, Kılıçdaroğlu said on Saturday that in Turkey, they have been holding their noses due to those peculiar smells coming from the corruption investigations. Kılıçdaroğlu also said it is a shame that Turkish ministers are part of a corruption indictment in the US.
“I hope we’ll get a chance to discuss this issue in the United States. You may be a big nation, but being a just nation is something else. Being a just nation requires the legal system to work fairly,” said Erdoğan.
In the superseding indictment on the US PACER (Public Access to Court Electronic Records) system, a handwritten note dated Sept. 6 saying that arrest warrants had been ordered appears at the end of the document charging four people, including Çağlayan, with conspiring to use the US financial system to conduct hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of transactions on behalf of the government of Iran and other Iranian entities barred by US sanctions.
The handwritten note says “Filed Indictment, Arrest Warrants ordered USMJ Parker,” a possible reference to US Magistrate Judge Katherine H. Parker.
The indictment that was filed by Joon H. Kim, the acting US attorney for the Southern District of New York on Wednesday, also charged four defendants with lying to US government officials about those transactions; laundering funds in connection with those transactions including millions of dollars in bribes to Cağlayan and others; and defrauding several financial institutions by concealing the true nature of the transactions.
According to a statement from the US Attorney’s Office on Wednesday, Çağlayan is alleged to have received tens of millions of dollars worth of bribes in cash and jewelry from the proceeds of the scheme to provide services to the government of Iran and to conceal those services from US government officials. Using his position as minister of the economy, Cağlayan directed other members of the scheme, including officers of Halkbank, to engage in certain types of deceptive transactions, approved the steps taken by other members to implement the scheme, and protected the scheme from competitors as well as from scrutiny. As a result, the co-conspirators induced US banks to unknowingly process international financial transactions in violation of sanctions on Iran.
The superseding Indictment further alleges that Çağlayan’s co-defendants – Turkish-Iranian gold trader Reza Zarrab, aka Rıza Sarraf, Halkbank executive Mehmet Hakan Atilla, Mohammad Zarrab, Camelia Jamshidy, aka Kamelia Jamshidy, and Hossein Najafzadeh, who previously were charged in this case with the same offenses – participated in the same crimes.
US authorities arrested Zarrab in Miami in March on charges of helping Iran process millions of dollars of transactions when it faced US sanctions for its nuclear program.
Atilla was also arrested in New York City in late March on similar charges to those of Zarrab.