Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) Chairman Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu has criticised Turkish autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan for accusing him of slandering businesspeople by repeating allegations that the president’s close circle was sending money to an off-shore company while a New York jury has been deliberating the fate of Mehmet Hakan Atilla, deputy general manager of Turkey’s state-run lender Halkbank, in a sanctions-busting trial since Tuesday.
Atilla, 47, faces decades in federal prison if convicted of conspiracy to evade US sanctions against Iran and conspiracy to commit bank fraud. He and other co-defendants still in Turkey are accused of taking part in an elaborate scheme to secretly move billions in Iranian money through American banks using phantom gold and food sales and shoeboxes full of bribe cash.
“You [Erdoğan] are blaming me saying I am criticizing people who earn a living by doing business. I never criticized. You should first speak about Reza Zarrab,” Kılıçdaroğlu said on Friday, referring to the Iranian-Turkish businessman who recently claimed he bribed ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) officials in a scheme to evade US sanctions on Iran at a trial in New York.
“Erdoğan never said anything negative about Zarrab,” Kılıçdaroğlu added. “Neither me nor my close circle founded a company in the Isle of Man or Malta to evade taxes in Turkey. Now I want to ask Erdoğan: What kind of commercial links do your relatives have with the company in the Isle of Man?” he said.
His comments came after Erdoğan slammed the CHP leader for accusing his close circle of establishing an off-shore company and funneling money to it in order to avoid taxes. “I said I would resign from politics and my post if what he was saying was true. I also asked him whether he would do the same if his allegations turned out to be fake. It was revealed that the papers he revealed had nothing to do with what he alleged. But he shamelessly continued,” Erdoğan said on Friday and added that “This person is someone who could not make even a cent from his own efforts besides what he earned from the state. He never got involved in commerce nor has he taken a risk or established a company,” he added.
Reza Zarrab freely admitted on the stand that he paid $50 million in bribes to a government minister, that he pocketed $150 million in profits and that he even bribed a Manhattan jail guard for access to a cellphone and alcohol. US prosecutors told the jurors that Zarrab’s admissions are evidence that he is telling the truth, as required by his cooperation deal, and that his claim that Atilla helped design the money-laundering plan is believable despite his checkered past.
They has described Atilla, a deputy general manager, as one of the most important executives at Halkbank, tapped to meet with US Treasury Department officials who warned him about sanctions violations. The fact that he never received a penny from Zarrab did not mean he is innocent, they said. The prosecution of Atilla has enraged Erdoğan, who was also implicated in the sanctions-busting by Zarrab.