US Attorney: Zarrab was replaceable, Atilla was indispensable in violating US’s Iran sanctions

Assistant US Attorney Michael Lockard has stated during the last day of hearing in US sanction violation trial in New York court that Iranian-Turkish gold trader Reza “Zarrab was the system,” and the deputy general manager of the Turkish state-run Halkbank, Mehmet Hakan “Atilla was the method.” He also added that “Zarrab was replaceable, but Atilla was indispensable,” according to twitter posts of Adam Klasfeld, the reporter of Courthouse News Service, on Tuesday.

The Courthouse News Service has reported on Tuesday that the major players behind the 2008 global financial crisis may be free, but a Turkish bank manager’s prosecution for facilitating billions in illicit trades with Iran proves that the financial sector isn’t “too big to jail,” a US prosecutor said on Tuesday.

Facing the possibility of decades behind bars, Turkish national Mehmet Hakan Atilla, who is one of nine Turks indicted in the sanctions-evasion scheme but the only one on trial, has vigorously maintained his innocence throughout two days of cross-examination about his work at Halkbank, Turkey’s sixth largest bank. Directly after leaving the witness stand, Atilla jumped out of the frying pan and into the fire of a prosecutor’s heated summation. Defense attorneys have depicted Atilla as one of 13 managers who improbably found himself at the center of a geopolitical drama.

Assistant US Attorney Michael Lockard recast Atilla as the star: trusted with Halkbank’s most sensitive accounts related to Iran. “Mr. Atilla was the lead person in that relationship,” Lockard said. “Now Mr. Atilla is a smart man. That much is clear. Mr. Atilla knows how to lie. That much is also clear.”

Lockard’s colleague Sidhardha Kamaraju went a step farther this afternoon, citing Atilla as proof that the United States can bring even the most powerful to justice.

The prosecutor said that Atilla traveled to the United States, where he knew he could be arrested, “because he thought he was too big to jail, and he was wrong.” Video of Atilla’s arrest shows the banker telling FBI agents: “Do your best.”

According to Twitter posts of Klasfeld, Atilla’s lawyer Victor Rocco, who was hired by Turkish government, has noted that his client waived his right against self-incrimination, the risk in testifying for two days. He said this was not an “act of a guilty man” but a man who “believes he is innocent and wants to proclaim his innocence to the entire world.”

He stated that “Reza Zarrab was caught by surprise by his arrest, and didn’t know about the investigation. The probe was then public. However, Atilla traveled to the US anyway, knowing about this investigation.”

As a response to Rocco’s argument, Assistant US Attorney Michael Lockard has stated that Atilla has dared the FBI, saying “do your best” because his arrest would cause an international incident. He added that Atilla went to the US “because he thought he was too big to jail, and he was wrong.”

By criticising Atilla’s defence lawyers, Lockard has stated that “Halkbank had 13 general managers. That means he is one of the 13 most powerful people at the bank.” “The only person who has been involve the [whole] time, the only person who has been there at every step is Hakan Atilla,” Lockard said. “You know that none of that is true,” Lockard added by citing Atilla’s high-profile clients like NIOC. “Mr. Atilla was the lead person in that relationship,” he said and continued “Now Mr. Atilla is a smart man. That much is clear. Mr. Atilla knows how to lie. That much is also clear.”

Lockard also said that Atilla has “changed his tune about a lot of things.” “Before his arrest, he’s an important man,” Lockard said. “At this trial, he tried to tell you that he is not that important. … He has tried to tell you that he is peripheral… This is a case about lies. … This is a case about the lies that Mr. Atilla told to cover-up a multibillion dollar sanctions busting scheme… Lies that Mr. Atilla told in his testimony over the last two days.”

By naming various Iranian entities that Lockard has claimed that Atilla lied about to prevent a “death blow” against Halkbank. Also by referring to gold exports in cargo planes, and fake food transactions “papered over” with fake documents Lockard has said that “You have seen the elaborate and complicated system that was devised…. He lied about Halkbank’s due diligence. He lied about the nature of the gold business… He lied about the fake food trade…”

“Atilla told US regulators the trade was ‘rigorous’ and ‘careful.’ You saw that the bank and Mr. Atilla exempted Mr. Zarrab from these requirements,” Lockard said. “You saw that none of that happened with Reza Zarrab. He lied about the gold business.” Lockard said and added that “It is impossible not to be aware that these experts were for the Iranian government and NIOC… And he lied about the fake food trade…  Now, Mr. Atilla also lied during his testimony. Some of those lies were small. Some of them were medium. Some of them were whoppers.”

Reza 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 was arrested in the US last year over evading sanctions on Iran, but after he became the prosecution’s top witness in the trial, former Halkbank deputy general manager Atilla is now the sole man in the dock accused of violating Iran sanctions, bribery and money laundering.

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