Turkish banker on trial denies helping
Iran evade U.S. sanctions
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[December 16, 2017]
By Brendan Pierson
NEW YORK (Reuters) - An executive at
Turkey's majority state-owned Halkbank took the witness stand in a New
York courtroom on Friday and denied charges that he participated in a
scheme to help Iran evade U.S. sanctions.
Mehmet Hakan Atilla, who has been on trial in federal court for three
weeks, told jurors that he "never" conspired with fellow defendant,
Turkish-Iranian gold trader Reza Zarrab, as U.S. prosecutors have
charged. Zarrab pleaded guilty and testified for the prosecution.
U.S. prosecutors have charged nine people with conspiring to help Iran
evade sanctions through fraudulent gold and food transactions. Only
Zarrab, 34, and Atilla, 47, have been arrested by U.S. authorities.
Responding to questions in court from one of his lawyers, Cathy Fleming,
Atilla directly contradicted some of the evidence presented during the
Zarrab had told the jury that he had seen Atilla's superior call Atilla
on an afternoon in April 2013 and order him to authorize an illicit
transaction. Atilla testified that he was on a plane at the time.
Atilla also said that a recorded phone call played in court, purportedly
between him and Zarrab, was actually between Zarrab and another Halkbank
Earlier this week, Atilla's lawyers asked U.S. District Judge Richard
Berman in Manhattan to order a mistrial following testimony from a
former Turkish police officer, Huseyin Korkmaz, who said he had
investigated Zarrab and Turkish government officials years earlier. They
said Korkmaz's testimony of fleeing Turkey to avoid retribution unfairly
associated Atilla with "cruel political violence."
The judge, without the jury present, denied the request for a mistrial
on Friday. He said Korkmaz had actually helped Atilla by testifying that
Atilla was never caught on surveillance videos or found to take bribes
in the investigation.
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Mehmet Hakan Atilla, a deputy general manager of Halkbank, is shown
in this court room sketch as he appears in Manhattan federal court
in New York, New York, U.S., March 28, 2017. REUTERS/Jane Rosenberg
The judge criticized the cross-examination of Korkmaz by Todd
Harrison, one of Atilla's lawyers. Harrison on Thursday asked about
possible links between Korkmaz and Fethullah Gulen, a U.S.-based
cleric blamed by the Turkish government for last year's failed coup.
Berman said it was "unpersuasive and borderline unprofessional" to
bring up what he called an "illogical foreign conspiracy theory" in
Harrison said he disagreed with Berman's criticism. "I think it was
a legitimate cross-examination," he said.
The case has strained ties between the United States and Turkey. A
spokesman for the Turkish government has called the case a "plot
Both Zarrab and Korkmaz implicated Turkish officials, including
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in their testimony.
Attempts to reach a spokesman for Erdogan to comment on the
testimony have been unsuccessful. Erdogan has previously dismissed
the case as a politically inspired attempt to bring down his
(Reporting By Brendan Pierson in New York; editing by Grant McCool)
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