Gold trader says he never liked Turkish banker facing trial

by Reuters
Tuesday, 5 December 2017 23:47 GMT

(Refiles to add dropped text in final two paragraphs.) By Brendan Pierson NEW YORK, Dec 5 (Reuters) - A Turkish gold trader testifying for U.S. prosecutors in the trial of an executive at Turkey's state-owned Halkbank, who is charged with helping Iran evade U.S. sanctions, said Tuesday that he and the banker never liked each other. Reza Zarrab, who has pleaded guilty and is cooperating with U.S. prosecutors in the case, also said he had complained about Halkbank deputy general manager Mehmet Hakan Atilla to Atilla's former superior on multiple occasions. The testimony came as Zarrab was cross-examined by one of Atilla's lawyers, Cathy Fleming. Prosecutors have charged nine people in the case, but only Zarrab, 34, and Atilla, 47, have been arrested by U.S. authorities. Zarrab previously testified under questioning by a prosecutor that he worked with Halkbank from 2012 to 2016 to help Iran spend its oil and gas revenue abroad using fraudulent gold and food transactions. He said Atilla helped structure those transactions. Halkbank said last week that it had not taken part in any illegal transactions. Under questioning by Fleming, Zarrab said he attended meetings with Atilla a "handful" of times during that period. He said he had a "close relationship" with Suleyman Aslan, who was Halkbank's general manager and Atilla's superior until 2013. Zarrab said he sometimes complained about Atilla to Aslan. Zarrab had testified earlier in the case that he complained to Aslan when Atilla refused to sign off on a transaction related to a sham sale of food to Iran. Zarrab said he paid bribes to Aslan, repeating his testimony in direct examination, but never to Atilla. Reuters was not immediately able to reach Aslan for comment. Fleming then asked about Zarrab's efforts to get out of U.S. jail after his March 2016 arrest. In his opening statement last week, Victor Rocco, another lawyer for Atilla, told jurors that Zarrab was motivated to lie in order to get out of jail. Zarrab said that after he pleaded guilty in October, he was released from MDC Brooklyn, a jail in New York. Zarrab also recounted hiring former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and former U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey to negotiate his release through diplomacy between the United States and Turkey. "You are furious with people in Turkey that it did not work, isn't that true?" Fleming asked. "I don't have any anger toward anybody, ma'am," Zarrab said. Zarrab has accused Turkish politicians, including President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of helping Iran evade U.S. sanctions. Erdogan on Sunday dismissed the case as a politically motivated attack on Turkey. CNN Turk on Thursday said Erdogan had said Turkey did not violate U.S. sanctions. (Reporting By Brendan Pierson in New York; Editing by Alden Bentley)

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