Jan 05 2018

Other U.S. sanctions cases may follow Turkish banker conviction – analyst

It would be not be surprising if the U.S. Department of Justice targets others for breaking sanctions on Iran following the conviction of Turkish banker Mehmet Hakan Atilla, wrote Jonathan Schanzer, senior vice president at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies and a witness in the case.

“From the documents I viewed, I wouldn’t be surprised to see other sanctions busters come in the DOJ crosshairs, creating new and uncomfortable challenges for our existing alliances and diplomatic agreements,” Schanzer said. “Perhaps other future indictments will tell us more.”

Schanzer said the Atilla case, in which the U.S. court found Iranian-Turkish gold dealer Reza Zarrab, aided by Atilla, had bypassed sanctions on Iran, was an important one. A host of banking and governmental officials in Turkey and Iran were accused of aiding and profiting from the scheme.

“The more we investigated, the more we realised that Zarrab’s schemes, which could have helped Iran pocket more than $100 billion, rank among the largest sanctions evasion episodes in modern history,” he said.

The reason why Turkey was so invested in the scheme was electoral, Schanzer said.

“We soon learned Ankara’s political motivations: The gold trade helped boost Turkey’s flagging export numbers at a moment when those numbers might have hurt President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s chances for re-election,” he said.

“Zarrab, who became fabulously wealthy by taking a percentage from every transaction (he later estimated his take at $150 million), even received a reward for his efforts from a Turkish trade association in 2015, with Erdoğan applauding from the audience.”