ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkey on Thursday slammed the conviction in New York of a Turkish banker accused of helping Iran evade sanctions as a “legal disgrace.”
A day after Mehmet Hakan Atilla, a 47-year-old deputy general manager of state-run Halkbank was found guilty of five counts including bank fraud, Turkey’s deputy prime minister, Bekir Bozdag, took to Twitter to describe the trial as a “political conspiracy” of “no legal value to Turkey.”
The trial of Atilla, which included testimony suggesting high-level corruption in Turkey, has strained ties between NATO allies Turkey and the United States.
“Turkey is a full sovereign and fully independent country,” Bozdag said. “Another country cannot put Turkey’s institutions on trial.”
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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said: “This is a scandalous verdict in a scandalous trial.”
Among the charges that stuck, Atilla was found guilty of conspiracy to defraud the United States. He was acquitted of a money laundering charge.
Turkey’s foreign ministry also accused U.S. government officials of helping people linked to U.S.-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen make false claims and provide false evidence — a reference to reports that a former Turkish deputy police chief told the jury during his testimony that the FBI paid him $50,000 and U.S. prosecutors covered his rent.
Turkey maintains the trial was based on Turkish corruption investigations in 2013, which it claims were hatched by Gulen’s followers to bring down the government. Erdogan has accused Gulen of being behind a failed 2016 coup attempt and is seeking his extradition.
Atilla was charged by U.S. authorities with taking part in a complex scheme in which Iran traded its oil and gas for gold, with some of the proceeds moving through U.S. financial institutions without their knowledge.
The prosecution’s star witness, Reza Zarrab, a Turkish-Iranian gold trader who admitted orchestrating the deals with Iran, testified that he paid over $50 million in bribes to Turkey’s finance minister in 2012 to advance the scheme and that he believed Erdogan knew about the plot.
Halkbank issued a statement on Thursday distancing itself from the trial.
“As well as our bank not being a party to the trial, no administrative or financial decision has been taken against our bank,” it said.
In a related development, Turkish authorities on Thursday issued warrants for the detention of the former police official who testified in court and was preparing to seek his extradition from the United States, the state-run Anadolu Agency reported.
The police official, Huseyin Korkmaz, said he was arrested and imprisoned for 18 months over the 2013 corruption probes before fleeing Turkey, taking evidence with him. Some of that material, including documents and recorded phone calls, was introduced at Atilla’s trial. Turkish authorities last month issued detention warrants for Korkmaz’s parents, wife and siblings.
Turkey’s leaders lashed out throughout the trial, with Erdogan calling it an American conspiracy to “blackmail” and “blemish” his country.
In the United States, acting U.S. Attorney Joon H. Kim said Atilla was convicted after a “full, fair and open trial.” Defense attorney Victor Rocco promised to appeal.
Associated Press writer Larry Neumeister in New York contributed.