A senior Turkish government minister on Thursday suggested that the New York-based trial of Reza Zarrab, an Iranian-born Turkish business executive who was charged with violating United States sanctions on Iran, is the latest attempt by self-exiled Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen to harm Turkey’s government.
Gulen has been living in exile in Pennsylvania since 1999. The Turkish government accused Gulen of masterminding last summer’s failed coup attempt and has asked the U.S. government to extradite the imam.
According to the Associated Press, Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag, the spokesman for the Turkish government, told Turkey’s state-run Anadolu News Agency that Zarrab, who is now serving as a witness in the trial, is being pressured to slander Turkey. He suggested that Gulen is behind this.
In September, the U.S. Department of Justice charged Zarrab with “conspiring to use the U.S. financial system to conduct hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of transactions on behalf of the government of Iran and other Iranian entities, which were barred by United States sanctions.”
On Wednesday, Zarrab reportedly testified in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York that he paid over $50 million in bribes to Turkey’s former finance minister Zafer Caglayan in 2012 in exchange for helping him launder Iranian money and helping the Islamic Republic gain access to international markets.
The Guardian reported that Zarrab told the jurors that “[Turkish President Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan, who was prime minister of Turkey at the time, had personally authorized a transaction on behalf of Iran.” The Guardian further reported that Zarrab “said he had bribed the then Turkish economy minister Zafer Çağlayan and the former head of the state-owned Halkbank.”
Zarrab became a witness after he agreed to plead guilty and testify against his former co-defendant and Turkey-based Halkbank’s former deputy chief, Mehmet Hakan Atilla, who is charged with bribing and providing kickbacks to high-level government officials to help Iran skirt U.S. sanctions.
On Thursday, Halkbank issued a statement negating these allegations, writing, “Our bank has not been a part to any transaction which is uncertain and illegal relating to any country and has not executed any transfer transaction which is uncertain and unlawful.”
“What (Gulen’s movement) was not able to achieve here, it is trying to achieve there (New York),” Bozdag reportedly said. He reportedly added that the trial would not succeed in “destroying the love and respect” the Turkish people have for Erdogan.
The Turkish government claims that the information in the case against Zarrab is fabricated and that it was illegally obtained by members of Gulen’s network, which the Turkish government refers to at FETÖ (Fethullahçı Terör Örgütü) or the Gülenist Terror Organization.
An article published in the pro-Erdogan newspaper the Daily Sabah reads, “As previous links between Richard Berman, the judge presiding over the Zarrab case, and FETO figures emerge, questions loom about his impartiality.”
The publication wrote that Berman went to Istanbul, Turkey on an all-expenses-paid trip subsidized by the Yüksel Karkın Küçük Attorney Partnership, which is linked to Gulen’s organization, “after the failure of the FETÖ-led Dec. 17-25 2013 operations, the so-called ‘corruption inquiry’ which was a plot perpetrated by the FETÖ to topple the democratically-elected government.”
The Daily Sabah goes on to note that “in the symposium, Berman targeted the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government and claimed that Turkey was governed by a ‘one man rule’ and suggested that the current administration must be changed—ideas which were consistently propagated by FETÖ supporters. Berman even criticized the dismissal of FETÖ-linked judges, prosecutors and police officers over unlawful wiretapping charges.”