ISTANBUL – Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan lashed out on Friday at the United States over the guilty conviction of a Turkish banker involved in a fraudulent scheme to help Iran evade US sanctions, and warned that bilateral relations between Ankara and Washington were losing validity.
Speaking to journalists before a trip to France, Erdogan added to a chorus of condemnation from senior Turkish officials over the guilty verdict for fraud and conspiracy that was handed down to Mehmet Hakan Atilla, a Turkish banker with the majority state-owned lender Halbank, at a trial in New York on Wednesday.
“The laws in our bilateral ties and the bilateral accords between us are losing their validity,” Erdogan told reporters in Istanbul. “I am saddened to say this, but this is how it will be from now on. If this is the US understanding of justice, then the world is doomed.”
The case was pinned on the testimony of Turkish-Iranian gold trader Reza Zarrab, who cooperated with prosecutors and offered a guilty plea that not only implicated Atilla but also several senior Turkish officials, including Erdogan, in the fraudulent scheme.
Between 2011-2012, the financial ploy had allowed several Iranian businesses make hundreds of thousands of dollars in breach of US sanctions against Tehran.
Atilla was found guilty on five of six counts against him, including conspiracy and fraud and faces up to 30 years in prison.
Zarrab is to be given a reduced sentence in return for his guilty plea.
Erdogan belittled the case as groundless and alleged that the US justice system had links to exiled Turkish cleric Fethullah Gülen, whom Ankara holds responsible for the failed 2016 coup attempt.
Turkey has unofficially requested Gülen’s extradition from his Pennsylvania home to no avail.