Ankara calls US court verdict ‘interference in Turkey’s domestic affairs’


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ISTANBUL: Turkey on Thursday slammed as meddling in its affairs a New York court ruling that convicted a Turkish banker in connection with a massive scheme to help Iran evade US sanctions.

“The US court… has interfered in Turkey’s domestic affairs in an unprecedented way based on so-called evidence that is only fit for forgery and political abuse,” the Turkish foreign ministry said in a statement.

A jury in New York found Mehmet Hakan Atilla, deputy chief executive of Turkish lender Halkbank, guilty on Wednesday of five counts of bank fraud and conspiracy, in a case that has further strained ties between Ankara and Washington.

He was cleared of one count of money laundering.

The ministry branded the US ruling as “unfair and unfortunate,” and “a shame of law”, expressing hope that the decision would be reversed.

The federal trial hinged on the testimony of well-connected Turkish-Iranian businessman Reza Zarrab, who became a government witness after admitting his involvement in the multi-billion-dollar gold-for-oil scheme to subvert US economic sanctions against Iran.

His testimony implicated former Turkish ministers and even President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the scheme, and identified 47-year-old Atilla as a key organiser.

Zarrab, a prominent gold trader, agreed to testify after striking a deal to plead guilty to violating US sanctions.
Ties between Turkey and the US have been strained over a number of issues including Washington’s refusal to extradite the Muslim preacher Fethullah Gulen, who Ankara blames for orchestrating the failed 2016 coup.

The foreign ministry statement said the court in the US was influenced by some Gulen group members who “made unrealistic allegations,” with the ministry saying that “destroyed the court process’s seriousness and credibility.” —AFP