May 16 2018

Arrest warrant sought for U.S. attorney on day of Turkish banker’s sentencing

A Turkish civil society group has requested an arrest warrant for a former U.S. District Attorney whose investigation incriminated Turkish-Iranian gold smuggler Reza Zarrab and Turkish banker Mehmet Hakan Atilla, on the day Atilla was sentenced at the New York Southern District Court.

Preet Bharara, the former attorney of the Southern District, arrested Zarrab in Mar. 2016 for his involvement in a scheme to break U.S. sanctions on Iran. Then a year later Atilla was arrested for acting U.S. Attorney Kim.

Atilla had allegedly been using falsified food exports to move Iranian money through HalkBank, the large Turkish state-owned bank for which he served as an executive, and the court found him guilty on five of six related charges in early January. 

Atilla’s trial and the testimony of its star witness, Turkish-Iranian gold trader Reza Zarrab, made headline news in December last year when it revealed allegations that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and former foreign minister Zafer Çağlayan were involved in the scheme.

As Atilla awaited his sentence, the request to issue an arrest warrant for Bharara was sent to a Turkish court by a civil society group set up to combat the influence of followers of Fethullah Gülen, the Islamist preacher who the government blames for organising the failed coup attempt in July 2016.

The Civil Society Platform for the Struggle Against the Fethullahist Terrorist Organisation also requested the arrests of four alleged Turkish Gülenists and Michael Rubin, an analyst and former Pentagon official accused by Turkish government circles of links to Gülen.

The Turkish president has suggested that the trial was the work of Gülenists, a claim that was taken up by Atilla’s lawyer and then roundly rejected by the presiding judge, Richard M. Berman.

Erdoğan insisted on Atilla’s innocence during an interview with Bloomberg TV on Monday, and said that the guilty verdict could “completely destroy” U.S.-Turkish relations. 

The 32-month prison sentence announced by Berman on Wednesday, without any monetary fine, was more lenient than both the 20-year sentence sought by prosecutors and the defence team’s calculations of 46-57 months in prison.