05:23 GMT +316 October 2019
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    A view of a logo at the entrance of a Halkbank branch on Februrary 14, 2014, in Istanbul

    US Jury Convicts Turkish Banker of Helping Iran Evade Sanctions

    © AFP 2019 / OZAN KOSE
    Middle East
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    After a four week trial, a US jury found a Turkish banker guilty of helping Iran evade US sanctions.

    In a Manhattan federal court, Mehmet Hakan Atilla, an executive at Turkey's state-owned Halkbank, was convicted on five counts, including bank fraud and conspiracy charges but acquitted of one count of money laundering. The verdict was issued on the fourth day of deliberations. 

    Atilla was accused of conspiring with gold trader Reza Zarrab to help Iran escape sanctions through fraudulent gold and food transactions, Reuters reported.

    On the witness stand, Zarrab admitted that the conspiracy was carried out with the blessing of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and included bribes to Turkish government officials. Erdogan has publically claimed that the case is a political attack against his government.

    Although US prosecutors have criminally charged nine people, only Zarrab and Atilla have been arrested by US authorities so far. Zarrab, who pleaded guilty, testified against Atilla.

    "Foreign banks and bankers have a choice: you can choose willfully to help Iran and other sanctioned nations evade US law, or you can choose to be part of the international banking community transacting in US dollars," Joon Kim, the US attorney in Manhattan, said in a statement following the verdict. "But you can't do both." 

    Huseyin Korkmaz, a former Turkish police officer who looked into Zarrab's business in 2012 and 2013, also testified. Korkmaz claims he was sent to prison in Turkey in retaliation for his investigation and fled to the US with evidence.

    Last week, Turkish Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gul sent a letter to US Attorney General Jeff Sessions demanding that Korkmaz be sent back to Turkey because he is "a fugitive, a terror suspect facing serious allegations."

    The Turkish government has claimed that followers of Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen, who lives in exile in the US, are behind the charges. The government has also blamed the 2016 attempted coup in Turkey on Gulen. He has denied all accusations against him.


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