After delivering testimony implicating Turkish autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and others in corruption, Hüseyin Korkmaz, the former deputy head of the İstanbul Police Financial Crime Department, tied the state-run lender Halkbank’s deputy General Manager Mehmet Hakan Atilla to enormous financial transactions that US prosecutors contend violated sanctions against Iran.
Korkmaz has been testifying for two days against Atilla. According to a report written by Adam Klasfeld for Courthouse News, along the way, Korkmaz told a New York jury how he led an investigation in which then-Turkish Prime Minister Erdoğan had been known to İstanbul police as “No. 1.”
Korkmaz also previously testified Turkish police were watching Halkbank’s former general manager Süleyman Aslan, Turkey’s former Minister of the Economy Zafer Çağlayan, and Muammer Güler, Turkey’s ex-interior minister.
According to the report, on Tuesday, Korkmaz turned his sightlines to the man on trial, referring to evidence that he said he found on the cellphone of gold trader Reza Zarrab, a former Erdoğan ally who is now cooperating with the US government.
“I talked to Hakan,” Zarrab said in a transcript of a phone conversation, according to Korkmaz. “They’re going to transfer soon.” Korkmaz added later that he recognised the last four digits of two phone numbers: Atilla’s and Zarrab’s.
Such testimony could prove crucial for prosecutors to prove that Atilla played an important role in a scheme in which his attorneys contend he was at best, a minor player.
A day earlier, Korkmaz had narrated an epic story of his investigation of top Turkish officials, which ended with his reassignment from İstanbul to a distant corner of Turkey in the city of Hakkari. That was only a prelude to incarceration in a Turkish prison, and a dramatic escape from the country of his birth through three other nations before coming to the United States with the help of prosecutors here. Before fleeing, Korkmaz said, he gathered all of the evidence of the cases he had been building, and prosecutors entered more of that evidence into the record today.
On top of the investigation that Korkmaz worked on, which ended with a series of arrests on Dec. 17, 2013, the 30-year-old officer said there was a second one that concluded a little more than a week later on Dec. 25.
Whereas Korkmaz did not explain earlier whether “No. 1” was a code name for Erdoğan because he was a target, the former officer left no doubt on the witness stand about this second investigation. “Apparently there was another investigation that is known by the public as the December 25 investigation,” Korkmaz said. “That was conducted by the Financial Crimes Unit also, but that was not related to the investigation that I was conducting on Reza Zarrab.”
“And apparently,” he continued, “this investigation known as the 25th of December investigation, involved corruption by certain individuals including the then-Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, also Bilal Erdoğan, and other ministers, such as Binali Yıldırım.”
Now Erdoğan’s successor, Yıldırım currently serves as Turkey’s Prime Minister. Erdoğan is now the country’s president.
Court News Service has reported that after Assistant US Attorney Michael Lockard ends his questioning of Korkmaz, one of Atilla’s attorneys is expected to cross-examine him. That cross-examination may focus on the financial assistance that Korkmaz acknowledged receiving from the US government, including $50,000 from the FBI and housing assistance from the prosecutors.
Korkmaz said that he received this help, but did not ask for it, because he is now unemployed. While a large amount of money in Turkey, Korkmaz’s assistance from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is below the median income of the average family in both the United States and New York, which is the most expensive city in the country. Korkmaz, who will return to the witness stand on Wednesday, previously testified that he has a wife and daughter.
Meanwhile, the representative of the FBI in Turkey has been summoned to the Directorate General of Security, state-run Anadolu news agency reported on Wednesday. The report said the official was summoned in connection with the ongoing trial in New York of a Turkish banker.
“I took my wife and my daughter and I left the country that I dearly love,” Korkmaz said. He said he eventually came to the United States with the help of US law enforcement authorities, bringing audio recordings and other evidence he took out from Turkey.