The FINANCIAL — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan condemned the recent conviction of a Turkish bank executive for violating U.S. sanctions against Iran, calling it a “political coup attempt” against his government.
Addressing his ruling Justice and Development Party on January 9, Erdogan said the case brought against Halkbank executive Mehmet Hakan Atilla by the U.S. Justice Department was a joint effort by the U.S. CIA and FBI to undermine him.
U.S. prosecutors and witnesses who took the stand in Atilla’s New York trial accused Turkish bank and government officials of taking bribes and participating in a scheme to help Iran launder $1 billion in oil revenues through the U.S. banking system in violation of U.S. sanctions.
One key U.S. government witness said Erdogan himself aided the scheme, though Erdogan has dismissed the accusation and was not charged by U.S. prosecutors.
Erdogan and his deputies have repeatedly charged that the U.S. prosecution was aided by his enemies — the same people who he said were behind a failed coup against him in July 2016 — the followers of Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, who resides in exile in the United States, according to RFE/RL.
U.S. prosecutors have called the accusation “ridiculous.”
“Those who could not succeed in the coup attempt in Turkey on July 15 are now searching for a different attempt in our country,” Erdogan said on January 9, calling the case against Atilla the latest such “political coup attempt.”
Atilla, one of nine defendants named in the U.S. indictment in the case, was convicted of evading Iran sanctions by a U.S. jury on January 3.
His former co-defendant and the alleged mastermind of the sanctions-evasion scheme, Reza Zarrab, pleaded guilty before the trial and cooperated with prosecutors, becoming a star witness in the case against Atilla.
Erdogan last week suggested that state-owned Halkbank might file a countersuit against the United States because the bank’s image and reputation were damaged during Atilla’s trial, although the bank was not named as a defendant in the case.
With reporting by Reuters, Hurriyet Daily News, and Enter.news