In a New York courtroom, on Thursday, November 30, Reza Zarrab, who helped Iran launder billions of dollars, implicated Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in a scheme to assist Iran in the evasion of sanctions by the United States.
Zarrab is a witness for the prosecution in a case against his former co-defendant, Mehmet Hakan Atilla, an executive at Turkiye Halk Bankasi AS. Zarrab was charged and was in U.S. jails for over a year awaiting trial, then mere weeks before his trial, he made a plea deal to plead guilty, cooperate and testify in exchange for leniency.
Zarrab testified before the jury that he was told by a senior Turkish official that the then-prime minister Erdogan had signed off himself on a plot to use two Turkish banks in this scheme.
According to Zarrab, the then-economy minister of Turkey Zafer Caglayan told him that “the prime minister had given his approval for the work with Ziraat,” which was a reference to laundering money through the Turkish bank Ziraat Bankasi. Prosecutor Sidhardha Kamaraju asked Zarrab who the prime minister of Turkey was at that time, and he answered, “Recep Tayyip Erdogan.”
For over a decade, starting in 2003 Erdogan was the prime minister of Turkey. Then in 2014 he became the first directly elected president of the country.
NTV reported that in Ankara on Thursday, Erdogan gave a speech to lawmakers from his ruling party, in which he said, “We didn’t violate the embargo. Whatever comes out of the trial, let it come out, we did the right thing.”
In 2013, this case started as a corruption probe, which Erdogan managed to suppress with the elimination of several prosecutors and investigators. Now that the case has been picked up by U.S. prosecutors in New York, Erdogan continues to try and silence it by protesting through diplomatic channels.
Zarrab spoke of a separate occasion, during his second day of testimony, on which Caglayan told him that both Erdogan and Turkey’s treasury minister Ali Babacan approved the plan and “gave instructions, gave the order, to begin doing this trade.”
According to Bloomberg News, “He testified that he had been moved out of the U.S. jail system because of threats against him, but that he remained in the custody of the FBI. During the course of his testimony, jurors sat and listened to stretches of his recorded phone conversations in Turkish, which none of them appeared to understand. Zarrab has said he helped Iran access billions of dollars in oil revenue that should have been off limits because of strict U.S. sanctions. He said he used an intricate money-laundering scheme that ran some of the funds through U.S. banks. Zarrab testified Thursday that in October 2012, after successfully tapping Iran’s money accumulating in Turkey, he helped devise a similar plan to launder Iranian funds that were piling up in India, also by moving them through Turkey. The new plan would involve a handful of Turkish banks, including Ziraat and Turkiye Vakiflar Bankasi TAO.”
By Rebecca Gold