After a Turkish banker has been convicted by a U.S. court over charges of violating U.S. sanctions against Iran, the Turkish government dismissed the verdict as “unfair” and a meddling in its internal affairs.
Turkey slammed the trial and the final verdict as “unfair and unfortunate,” setting the stage for a potential new diplomatic spat after relations were eased with the mutual resumption of visa services last week.
Ibrahim Kalin, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan‘s spokesman, portrayed the ruling as a “scandalous decision.”
“It is clear that this case is a conspiracy aimed at complicating Turkey’s internal politics and intervening in Turkey’s internal affairs,” Mr. Kalin said, according to official Anadolu news agency.
In a comment on Twitter, Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag said the decision has no legal value in Turkey, saying that it is against international law.
After two weeks of recess, a jury in New York found Mehmet Hakan Atilla guilty in a multi-billion dollar scheme to evade sanctions against Iran. He was convicted on five of six counts he faced.
He was acquitted of the charge of money laundering but found guilty on charges of conspiracy to violate sanctions on Iran, conspiracy to defraud the U.S., bank fraud, conspiracy to commit bank fraud, money laundering conspiracy.
“It is an unjust and unfortunate development that Halkbank Deputy General Manager Mehmet Hakan Atilla was found guilty,” Turkish foreign ministry said in a statement.
“The U.S. court, in a process carried out by relying on so-called ‘evidence, which is fake and open to political exploitation… made an unprecedented interference in Turkey’s internal affairs,” the statement read.
The trial loomed large over the relations between Turkey and the U.S. as a source of renewed friction since the beginning. Turkey’s leaders regarded as a sinister political plot to blight the rise of Turkey and its economy.
The legal process took a new turn when Turkish-Iranian gold trader Reza Zarrab, who had close links to President Erdogan, became a government witness and testified against Mr. Atilla.
U.S. prosecutors accused the banker of being the architect of the whole scheme, using his expertise to find loopholes in the U.S. sanctions, and spearhead Mr. Zarrab’s oil-for-gold framework.
In his defense, Mr. Atilla steadfastly denied that he conspired with Mr. Zarrab for the scheme, and rejected other charges. He said he did not involve any wrongdoing. His lawyers portrayed a hardworking public servant who became “a hapless and helpless pawn” in an international intrigue that involved powerful players and bigger actors.
Though the Turkish-Iranian businessman confessed to giving 50 million euros of bribes to former Turkish Economy Minister Zafer Caglayan, and more than $4,5 million to former Halkbank General Manager Suleyman Aslan, he never said he bribed the Halkbank executive Atilla. The prosecutors also did not push any charge of bribery against him.
Judge Richard Berman who oversaw the legal proceedings will deliver the sentence on April 11.