Jury in U.S. sanctions case begin deliberations

The jury in the U.S. case of a Turkish banking executive accused of assisting an Iranian-Turkish gold dealer in breaking U.S. sanctions on Iran retired to deliberate on their verdict on Wednesday, Law360 said.

They will decide whether former Halkbank Deputy Chairman Mehmet Hakan Atilla wilfully aided the scheme in which Turkish-Iranian gold trader Reza Zarrab said he had bribed Turkish bankers and ministers with the blessing of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to bypass sanctions imposed on Iran over its nuclear programme. Zarrab pleaded guilty to the charges in the hope of a lesser sentence.

Federal Judge Richard Berman, as part of an extensive series of instructions to the jury, reminded them that they could make inferences from strong circumstantial evidence and that they should not discount evidence based on how it was obtained.

This was particularly important in the Atilla case, Adam Klasfeld of Courthouse News said, as some of the key evidence was smuggled out of the country by a renegade former policeman.

The jury sent a note to Berman asking for the flowcharts drawn by Zarrab to lay out how he said the scheme had worked, along with a video made by the Federal Bureau of Investigation on the day Atilla was arrested, and for photos used during the trial of the principal characters involved.

Berman also “indicated that he was highly unlikely to grant a mistrial” in relation to questioning that touched upon evidence not in the official record, Law360 said.

In Turkey, Justice Minister Abdülhamit Gül told reporters he would phone his U.S. counterparts later this week to ask for the trial to be wound up.

It “had no legal foundation, first of all,” Gül said, and U.S. sanctions were not binding on Turkey.

“If this was opened on the basis of violations of U.S. financial interests and so-called embargo and it goes on a path that opposes Turkey’s own interests and sovereign rights, Turkey will not allow this to happen,” he said.

The U.S. government is unlikely to interfere directly to shut down a court case due to laws limiting the power of the executive over the judiciary.

Overshadowing the case is the potential for Zarrab’s revelations under oath – which implicated top Turkish officials as well as Turkish and foreign banks in the scheme – to lead to further court cases and possible fines against banks alleged to have been involved.

“Legal departments of banks around the globe are going to be scrutinising this court record under a microscope,” Klasfeld tweeted.