Turkey: Helping Iran dodge U.S. sanctions?
The allegations go to the very top of the Turkish government, said Kareem Shaheen in The Guardian (U.K.). An international businessman has claimed that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan oversaw a billion-dollar oil-for-gold scheme from 2010 to 2015 that helped Iran skirt U.S. sanctions. Reza Zarrab, a wealthy Turkish-Iranian gold trader, was due to stand trial in a Manhattan court last week along with Mehmet Hakan Atilla, former deputy head of Turkish state-owned Halkbank, on charges including money laundering and sanctions busting. But then Zarrab flipped, pleaded guilty to a stack of charges, and began cooperating with prosecutors. The gold trader claimed in court that he’d paid millions of dollars in bribes to Turkish officials, including then–Economy Minister Zafer Caglayan, to help funnel Iranian oil-and-gas revenues through American banks—a violation of U.S. sanctions. Zarrab said he was told by Caglayan that then–Prime Minister Erdogan “had personally authorized a transaction on behalf of Iran.”
Turkish prosecutors first uncovered this scheme in 2013, said Luisa Seeling in the Süddeutsche Zeitung (Germany). Istanbul police arrested dozens of people, including Zarrab and the sons of three cabinet officials. They found $4.5 million in cash at the home of a Halkbank official, and Caglayan resigned in disgrace. But Erdogan, who “would do anything to keep the truth under wraps,” quashed the investigation, claiming it was a plot to undermine him by U.S.-based Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen—the same cleric he would accuse of organizing the failed 2016 coup attempt. Soon after, Erdogan ordered his first massive purge of police and other officials suspected of loyalty to Gulen. Even now, Erdogan insists he has done nothing illegal, saying he must comply only with United Nations sanctions, not U.S. sanctions. But this supposedly fake scandal is causing real pain for Turkey. The lira has slumped over fears Turkish banks will be hit with sanctions, “should it turn out they were involved in breaking international sanctions.”
This is a U.S. conspiracy, said Ozan Ceyhun in the Daily Sabah (Turkey). The Americans are trying “to undermine the Turkish economy by charging Turkey and Turkish banks with false evidence.” The U.S. judge and prosecutors are clearly pawns of Gulen, the witnesses are lying, and Zarrab himself is “probably a CIA agent.” Hopefully the rest of the world will remember that the U.S. already tried once to topple Erdogan, by supporting Gulen’s coup attempt, and they won’t believe these smears.
Erdogan will survive this, said Semih Idiz in the Hurriyet Daily News (Turkey). There’s no concrete evidence that he gave the order to the banks—only secondhand testimony. Turkish state-run media, Erdogan’s “propaganda apparatus,” is dutifully repeating the line that the whole story is a U.S. plot against him, so the people are behind him. And our judiciary is no longer independent. The banker on trial in the U.S. will be “the only fall guy.” ■