Turkish gov’t issues detention warrants for former CHP deputy Erdemir over Zarrab case

Aykan Erdemir

İstanbul Chief Prosecutor’s Office issued a detention warrant on Tuesday for former main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) deputy Aykan Erdemir, on the grounds that he provided alleged “fake reports” as evidence for the US case of Reza Zarrab, a Turkish-Iranian gold trader who was arrested in Miami in March 2016 on charges of evading US sanctions on Iran.

The prosecution also issued a detention warrant for certified public auditor Osman Zeki Canıtez. The men were also named in the witness list of the New York court case, which is also trying Mehmet Hakan Atilla, the former deputy general manager of state-run Halkbank.

According to pro-government media, the detention warrants were issued upon as both figures were charged with alleged “stealing, cheating to take, misusing or destroying documents related to the security of state” in an investigation that is currently being carried out by İstanbul Chief Prosecutor’s office.

According to a statement from the İstanbul Chief Prosecutor’s Office, Erdemir and Canıtez are being investigated over whether they “destroyed paperwork relating to state security” and stole documents with the intention of using them abroad. The prosecutor’s office stated that Erdemir and Canıtez submitted “so-called files” dated January 28, 2014 from the probe to the New York County District Attorney’s Office as evidence.

Erdemir, in a statement he shared on his Twitter account on Tuesday, called the Turkish charges against him false, defamatory and “entirely political in nature” and said, “The Turkish government has a regrettable history of harassing and intimidating critics and experts.”

Canıtez was a former auditor for Turkey’s Banking Regulation and Supervision Agency (BDDK), which prepared a report in January 2014 on the role of public-owned Halkbank’s transactions in breaching US sanctions on Iran, shortly after the Dec. 17/25, 2013 corruption investigation that Turkish prosecutors accused Zarrab and high-ranking Turkish officials of involvement in facilitating Iranian money transfers via gold smuggling.

In the aftermath of a controversial military coup attempt on July 15, 2016, Canıtez could not be found in his address during a post-coup witch hunt operation targeting Gülen movement affiliated Bank Asya’s employees.

The Dec. 17/25, 2013 corruption investigation also incriminated senior government officials and then-Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s family members. Erdoğan had cast that investigation as a coup attempt orchestrated by his political enemies. Several Turkish prosecutors were removed from the case, police investigators were reassigned, and the investigation was later dropped.

After details of the Turkish prosecution were leaked, several prosecutors were removed from the case and police investigators were reassigned. Erdoğan described the case as an attempt by Gülen movement’s supporters to undermine his government, and the investigation was later dropped.

Pro-government media outlets claimed that Metin Topuz, who was an employee at the US Istanbul consulate arrested in early October over alleged links to the Gülen movement and caused a brief visa crisis with Turkey, served as an intermediary in taking the confidential report from Canıtez and transmitting it to US authorities.

Aykan Erdemir, who served as CHP Bursa deputy between 2011 and 2015, is currently in the US and works as a senior analyst for the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD). FDD CEO Mark Dubowitz and Senior Vice President Jonathan Schanzer were appointed Friday as experts on Iran sanctions by Judge Richard Berman.

The investigation in the US became apparent when Turkish-Iranian gold trader Reza Zarrab was arrested in Miami in March last year on charges of engaging in hundreds of millions of dollars of transactions on behalf of the government of Iran and other Iranian entities, which were barred by US sanctions, while laundering the proceeds and defrauding several financial institutions by concealing the true nature of the illegal transactions.

US prosecutors also charged former Economy Minister Zafer Çağlayan, Süleyman Aslan, who is the former general manager of state-owned Halkbank, and two others for conspiring to evade the US sanctions on Iran. Zarrab and Halkbank Deputy General Manager Mehmet Hakan Atilla, who was arrested while in the US in March 2017, were scheduled to stand trial. Atilla pleaded not guilty to the charges that accused him of conspiring with Zarrab.

US New York Southern District Judge Richard Berman in Manhattan told Monday that prospective jurors in the case that Atilla is the only defendant on trial and Zarrab will not appear in court.

Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdağ said Monday that the US applied pressure on Zarrab to force him to sign off on fabricated accusations as the 34-year-old businessman dropped out of sight in the two months leading up to his scheduled trial.

Erdoğan’s nationalist ally Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) leader Devlet Bahçeli has said on Tuesday that Zarrab should be extradited and tried in Turkey if he has committed a crime according to Turkish laws. “If the charlatan called Zarrab has committed a crime in the US’s own laws, he should be tried and should serve the necessary punishment. Who can oppose that? Who can be uncomfortable with that? If he has committed a crime in Turkey, on Turkish soil, the place where the account of the crime should be asked is the Turkish judiciary, not US courts,” Bahçeli said on Tuesday, addressing his party group at parliament.

“This dirty individual should be extradited to Turkey for these crimes and the US should give the documents and information it has on this subject to Turkey,” he added. “The trial of Reza Zarrab should only be provided with impartial and objective Turkish courts,” he said.

The Turkish government and President Erdoğan have also said the case has been fabricated for political motives. This has exacerbated tensions between Ankara and Washington, NATO allies. Investor sentiment toward Turkey has cooled, and traders said the situation was a factor in the lira’s fall to record lows.

Other AKP officials have also repeatedly characterized the case as a “political plot” against Turkey and Bahçeli also claimed the case had been “politicized.” “It is as if Turkey is being judged, forced to sit in the dock and be interrogated through a dark personality who is of Iranian origin and a Turkish citizen,” the MHP leader said.

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