Turkish gov’t seeks extradition of witness Korkmaz over his testimony in Iran sanctions case in US

Turkish government has issued an extradition request to the US for Hüseyin Korkmaz, the former deputy head of the İstanbul Police Financial Crime Department, who testified at the New York trial of Mehmet Hakan Atilla, an executive of Turkey’s state-owned Halkbank, found guilty of helping launder money for Iran.

Korkmaz had testified on December 11, 2017 in New York that Turkish autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had been known to İstanbul police as “No. 1” in a 2013 corruption investigation.

According to a report by state-run Anadolu news agency on Thursday, İstanbul Chief Prosecutor Office has issued a detention warrant for Korkmaz, demanding his extradition from the US. It was also reported that the extradition request has been submitted to the Justice Ministry, which will send it to the US judicial authorities.

More than 100 alleged criminals from 32 countries were extradited to Turkey in 2017, according to Turkish security sources. The Turkish Security General Directorate’s Interpol-Europol Department also had 81 people extradited in 2016 and 91 in 2015. Eleven of these extradited people were accused of being members of the Gülen movement.

Korkmaz, who was arrested by corrupt Erdoğan regime in the aftermath of corruption operations in late 2013, said the graft investigation initially focused on the organization run by Iranian gold trader Reza Zarrab, but later grew to include dozens of others. He called Erdoğan the “No. 1” target in a group that also included Mehmet Zafer Çağlayan, the former economy minister, and Süleyman Aslan, ex-chief executive of Halkbank, a large Turkish state-owned bank, which was central to the scheme.

The testimony of Korkmaz in the Iran sanction case in the US has confirmed for the first time that the corruption case in Turkey was aimed directly at Erdoğan — not just ministers, associates and family members. It may go some way toward explaining why Erdoğan responded so forcefully to it, as well as the Turkish government’s reactions to the probe being re-opened in the US.

Erdoğan has called the 2013 investigation a “judicial coup” orchestrated by his political enemies, and has claimed the current US case is politically motivated as well.

In addition to his testimony about Erdoğan, Korkmaz used the term “cartel leader” to describe Zarrab, a prominent former ally of Erdoğan who has pleaded guilty to money-laundering charges as part of the sanctions case. Korkmaz said Zarrab’s cartel oversaw three other groups, one of which was led by Turkey’s state-run Halkbank’s former General Manager Süleyman Aslan and then-Economy Minister Çağlayan.

Korkmaz, who had made headlines in Turkey when he shouted, “The emperor has no clothes… I wouldn’t be a policeman if I was afraid of thieves,” as he has shoved into police car after his detention, said Turkey’s ex-minister of the interior, Muammer Güler, led the next group, and that the final one was led by Zarrab’s former partner Taha Ahmet Alacacı.

The Turkish investigation was ended after the arrest of Zarrab in December 17, 2013 and a raid on the home of Aslan, which recovered millions of dollars in cash stuffed into shoe boxes. Photos of the cash recovered from the raid were shown to the jury. The photos were taken in the course of the Turkish investigation. Erdoğan was prime minister at the time.

He had also testified about large cash bribes his team discovered stashed in shoeboxes in Aslan’s home. “It’s stacks of $100 banknotes,” Korkmaz said, describing a picture of one of these shoeboxes shown to the jury. There were Turkish lira as well, and “also stacks of euro banknotes at 500 euros each,” Korkmaz continued.

Korkmaz had also told the trial at Manhattan federal court  that he feared he would be tortured if he returned to Turkey. During his cross-examination, Korkmaz had denied any affiliation with US-based Turkish-Muslim scholar Fethullah Gülen and the movement named after him.

Zarrab had pleaded guilty in the weeks before the trial and spent seven days on the witness stand detailing the plot. He testified against Halkbank executive Mehmet Hakan Atilla. Nine people were charged in the US case, including Aslan and Çağlayan, but the other defendants have avoided US arrest. Erdoğan wasn’t charged in the case.

Zarrab had also testified that then-Prime Minister Erdoğan personally ordered the resumption of the plot to launder billions of dollars in Iranian oil revenue and circumvent US sanctions in 2014 after an investigation into the matter was quashed. Zarrab didn’t name Erdoğan in this portion of his testimony, although he appeared to be referring to him. However, Zarrab testified that a senior Turkish official said to him that Erdoğan personally approved a plan to involve two Turkish banks in the scheme.

The extradition request for Hüseyin Korkmaz came after Turkish Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gül called for bringing back Korkmaz, a former Turkish police supervisor who fled to the U.S. after being released in February 2016 to testify before the US court in a case involving former Turkish banker Mehmet Hakan Atilla.

According to the report Korkmaz faces several charges including “being member of an armed terror group” and “attempting to overthrow the government of the Republic of Turkey.”

Detention warrants have been issued for six family members of Hüseyin Korkmaz including his mother, father, wife, two sisters, brother and lawyer over testimony in court in which he said he had given documents to his mother for safekeeping. The police could not find any of the six people at their addresses of record.

On Wednesday, a jury in New York found Atilla guilty on five counts related to conspiracy and bank fraud but acquitted him of a money laundering charge. The verdict by a panel of six men and six women against Atilla, the 47-year-old former deputy chief executive officer of Turkey’s Halkbank, came after more than three weeks of testimonies and four days of deliberation.

The counts on which the banker was declared guilty included violation of US sanctions against Iran, crimes to deceive the US and defrauding US banks.

Zarrab and eight other people, including Turkey’s former economy minister and three Halkbank executives, have been 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.

Zarrab was the prime suspect in a major corruption investigation in Turkey that became public in December 2013 and implicated the inner circle of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) government and then-Prime Minister Erdoğan. Zarrab was alleged to have paid Cabinet-level officials and bank officers bribes 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 in Turkey.

Zarrab told the New York court that he made payments to secure his release in February 2014 and that those payments were partly bribes. Zarrab, who was arrested in the US in March 2016, testified that he had bribed Turkey’s former economy minister, Çağlayan, in a billion-dollar scheme to smuggle gold for oil in violation of US sanctions on Iran.

Zarrab said that Erdoğan personally authorized the involvement of Turkish banks in the scheme to evade US sanctions on Iran. Zarrab also said for the first time that Turkey’s Ziraat Bank and VakıfBank were involved in the scheme and that former Deputy Prime Minister Ali Babacan signed off with Erdoğan on the operation.

While Zarrab revealed his tactics and accomplices within the Turkish government in violating US sanctions on Iran in New York federal court, President Erdoğan said that the case was an international coup attempt against Turkey.

Turkey survived a controversial military coup attempt on July 15, 2016 that killed 249 people. Immediately after the putsch, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government along with President Erdoğan pinned the blame on the Gülen movement.

Gülen, who inspired the movement, strongly denied having any role in the failed coup and called for an international investigation into it, but President Erdoğan — calling the coup attempt “a gift from God” — and the government initiated a widespread purge aimed at cleansing sympathizers of the movement from within state institutions, dehumanizing its popular figures and putting them in custody.

Turkey has suspended or dismissed more than 150,000 judges, teachers, police and civil servants since July 15. Turkey’s Interior Minister announced on December 12, 2017 that 55,665  people have been arrested. Previously, on December 13, 2017, The Justice Ministry announced that 169,013 people have been the subject of legal proceedings on coup charges since the failed coup.

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