Speaking live on Turkish TV channel HaberTurk, pro-government journalist Cem Kucuk said that in facilitating business transactions between Turkey and Iran by circumventing international sanctions, the country’s state-run lender Halkbank had behaved ‘patriotically’.
Mehmet Hakan Atilla, the deputy general manager of Halkbank was arrested in accordance with a Manhattan court decision on Tuesday, a day after being taken into custody in New York’s JFK International Airport. The 47-year-old Turkish citizen is accused of conspiring with wealthy Turkish gold trader Reza Zarrab, using his position at the Turkish bank to facilitate access to the US financial system and to conceal hundreds of millions of dollars of illegal transactions through US banks on behalf of Iran’s government and other Iranian entities in violation of US sanctions.
Kucuk said that Zarrab was a “[Turkish] government man” who had worked out a way to bypass sanctions against Iran, and in doing so enabled “Turkey and Halkbank to make millions of dollars in profit”.
Zarrab, a gold trader who was at the centre of a corruption scandal that engulfed Turkey’s leadership in December 2013 was arrested in Miami, Florida in March 2016 and has been in prison in New York since then in a case that has strained relations between Ankara and Washington.
“Reza Zarrab is a project of the Turkish state. He’s our man. Previously two companies were selling our goods to Iran when there was an embargo and these were American and Israeli companies Bunge and Cargill. Then we brought in Zarrab and cut out the middle men and sold our own goods. This is where Halkbank was useful, they did a patriotic job for the country,” Kucuk claimed on the program.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu raised the issue during US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s visit to Turkey on Thursday saying “the case [in the US] is politically motivated as it was launched by an attorney that has close ties with the Gulenist movement.” Tillerson refrained from giving a clear response to questions regarding the issue.