Turkish banker denies role in oil-for-gold sanctions scheme
A Turkish banker on trial in New York in a case that has increased tensions between the United States and Turkey denied he had ever conspired with state’s witness Reza Zarrab to evade sanctions imposed on Iran over its nuclear programme, NBC news reported.
Mehmet Hakan Atilla, former deputy general manager at Turkish state-owned Halkbank, has pleaded not guilty to charges of laundering money to cover up a scheme run by Turkish-Iranian gold trader Zarrab.
Millionaire Zarrab has pleaded guilty to the charges and agreed to give full testimony of his role in the plot in the hope of receiving a lighter sentence. Zarrab said he worked with Atilla to arrange a complex series of money transfers involving a number of shell companies and exports of gold and fictitious goods to cover for payments for Iran’s embargoed oil and gas.
“Did you ever conspire with Reza Zarrab to evade sanctions?” defence lawyer Cathy Fleming was quoted by NBC as asking Atilla.
“Never,” replied Atilla emphatically.
Zarrab has testified that he paid millions of dollars to ministers and officials for them to facilitate the scheme, which he said Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had given him the green light to continue.
Erdoğan has said the trial is being conducted by a “fake court” and is part of an attempt to undermine Turkey politically and economically.
Atilla said he had been on a plane at the time when Zarrab said he had taken instructions to process one illegal transaction and his lawyers produced documents from Turkish Airlines to corroborate the assertion.
Atilla also testified that a wiretapped call prosecutors said was between him and Zarrab was instead between Zarrab and another banker with the same given name, Hakan Aydoğan, NBC said.