Turkey's Erdogan helped Iran evade USA sanctions, witness claims

Cheryl Sanders
December 1, 2017

In this courtroom sketch, Turkish-Iranian gold trader Reza Zarrab, center, testifies before Judge Richard Berman, right, that he helped Iran evade USA economic sanctions with help from Turkish banker Mehmet Hakan Atilla, Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2017, in NY.

Turkey is to seize the assets of a Turkish-Iranian gold trader who is a key witness in the trial of a Turkish bank executive in the United States over violations of Iran sanctions, the state-run Anadolu news agency said on Friday. Asked by prosecutor Sidhardha Kamaraju who was prime minister of the country at the time, Zarrab replied: "Recep Tayyip Erdogan".

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 USA sanctions.

Zarrab said he was told by Turkey's then-economy minister Zafer Caglayan that "the prime minister had given his approval for the work with Ziraat", referring to money laundering through the Turkish bank Ziraat Bankasi.

Zarrab is also testifying in this trial against the deputy general manager of Halkbank, Mehmet Hakan Atilla, who until recently was Zarrab's co-defendant.

Zarrab also testified that he engaged in a scheme to pull Iranian money out of Aktif Bank, the largest privately-owned investment bank in Turkey.

Giuliani and Mukasey traveled to Turkey in February to meet Erdogan to seek a solution to the case, according to one of Zarrab's other lawyers.

The executive, he said, feared that Zarrab's celebrity as the husband of Turkish pop star Ebru Gundes would draw scrutiny to the trades.

"A few billion. euros" were withdrawn in this scheme "under disguise of gold trade", Zarrab said. But the business only lasted a few months, and was frozen out by Chinese banks.

At one point, Zarrab drew diagrams for the jury to illustrate the elaborate web of transactions used to beat US sanctions, which prohibit Iran from using USA dollars or the USA financial system. Zarrab said he paid Baris $100,000 for getting the letter. "The plot is bringing Turkey to its knees", Yildirim said.

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