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Former Police Chief Implicates Erdogan As ‘No: 1’ in 2013 Graft Probe

A former police chief with Istanbul Police Department’s anti-corruption unit who took the witness stand to testify in a high-profile U.S. case pointed to then-Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan as the paramount figure, “number one” in a corruption probe that rattled Turkey, shattering the political landscape.

Turkish Police Chief Huseyin Korkmaz who was reassigned, then imprisoned, after Dec. 17 corruption investigation is testifying in a court in Manhattan. Mr. Korkmaz offered a valuable background in the leading up to a probe that forever reshaped the course of Turkish politics.

U.S. prosecutors indicted Halkbank executive Mehmet Hakan Atilla, former Turkish Economy Minister Zafer Caglayan and seven other Turkish defendants in a case for violating U.S. sanctions against Iran. Hakan Atilla appears at the court as the only defendant, while Reza Zarrab whose arrest led to the building of U.S. trial, chose to cooperate with the U.S. prosecutors and testified at the court for more than a week.

Mr. Korkmaz told the court that current President Erdogan was seen by Istanbul Police Department as the ‘number one’ figure in the corruption probe that involved Mr. Zarrab’s bribery scheme.

The technical surveillance and conventional intelligence helped the formation of the police investigation about the large amounts of bribes stashed in Suleyman Aslan’s home, then Halkbank’s general manager. On the day of Dec. 17, police raided 20 addresses, he told the court.

After the outbreak of the investigation, he was re-assigned to an unimportant post on Dec. 22, 2013. In September 2014, the police chief was imprisoned, along with other police chiefs.

Mr. Korkmaz was released in 2016 but his passport was revoked and a ban for traveling abroad was imposed. In August, with the help of a smuggler, he fled the country to avoid persecution.

Mr. Atilla’s defense team launched a bid for a mistrial, arguing that the former police chief’s testimony is irrelevant to the case of the defendant, the Halkbank executive. The judge dismissed their call.

In his testimony, Mr. Korkmaz mostly talked about Reza Zarrab and other defendants and admitted that Mr. Atilla did not take any bribe from the gold trader. But he did not provide any other information that could be relevant to the situation of the Turkish banker.

That periodically prompted objections from the defense team, only to be overruled by Judge Richard Berman.

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