Tim Lowell
Dec 20 2017

Guilt of Turkey’s Halkbank not questioned at Zarrab trial

As prosecution and defence lawyers summed up their final positions in the U.S. prosecution of Turkish bank executive Mehmet Hakan Atilla, both sides agreed his employer, Turkish state-owned Halkbank, had helped Iranian-Turkish gold dealer Reza Zarrab bypass sanctions on Iran.

The case appears to have established that Halkbank and several other banks in Turkey and across the world knowingly collaborated with Zarrab in undermining the U.S. sanctions. If U.S. authorities pursue the evidence, it could mean substantial fines being levied on the banks involved and that could undermine confidence in the Turkish banking system.

Prosecutors had a difficult time in establishing Atilla’s complicity in the complex scheme and his motive. Atilla handled some of the Iranian accounts at Halkbank but said he did not attend meetings where undermining sanctions was discussed.

"Atilla did not come to the United States because he thought he was innocent ... Atilla came to the United States because he thought he was too big to jail. And he was wrong," New York Times correspondent Ben Weiser quoted assistant prosecutor Sidhardha Kamaraju as saying.

This was the prosecution’s latest line of attack.

“They started with ‘economic jihad’, then they went to greed, now they are on hubris. It's the third theory the prosecution has come up with to describe the defendant's motive,” courtroom reporter Pete Brush tweeted.

“You will return a verdict, I’m sure, of not guilty and allow this innocent man, this pawn in a cosmic game of chess, to return to his wife and his son and his home in Turkey,” Courthouse News quoted Atilla’s lawyer Victor Rocco as saying.

Zarrab, who appeared in court earlier as a witness as part of a plea deal, said that Atilla had not wanted bribes to carry out the transactions, unlike Turkish politicians and Halkbank CEO Süleyman Aslan, but contended that Atilla had been present for some of the planning of the scheme.

Two senior U.S. Treasury officials, Adam Szubin and David Cohen, had then told the court that they had warned Halkbank about the risks of breaking the sanctions at meetings that Atilla attended.

The defence sought to paint Zarrab as untrustworthy and incentivised to exaggerate Atilla’s role.

“That same master criminal who joined Iran’s economic jihad against the United States is now embraced by our government, as he tries to earn his way out of jail, earn his freedom by bartering the fate of another human being,” Rocco said.