Turkish police have summoned an FBI official over the testimony of a former Turkish police investigator in a high-profile U.S. court case involving alleged violations of sanctions on Iran, Turkish news agencies reported.
Turkish media reported on December 13 that a Federal Bureau of Investigation representative at the U.S. Embassy in Istanbul was summoned after Huseyin Korkmaz testified on December 11 that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was a target in his 2013 investigation into suspected bribery and money laundering in connection with a scheme to help Iran evade sanctions.
U.S. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert confirmed on December 13 that an FBI attache at the U.S. Embassy “had been brought in to the Turkish ministry.” She provided no details.
Korkmaz told jurors at the U.S. District Court in Manhattan that he led a 2012-2013 investigation into high-level corruption in Turkey that was centered on a scheme to help Iran launder $1 billion in revenues from oil and gas sales through U.S. banks in violation of sanctions imposed over Iran’s nuclear and missile activities.
He said Erdogan’s government eventually closed his investigation and he and other investigators were fired and jailed.
After being released from jail last year, Korkmaz said he fled Turkey with his family and took evidence he had gathered in the case with him. That evidence was later turned over to U.S. prosecutors, he said.
Korkmaz disclosed in testimony on December 13 that he had received $50,000 from the FBI and housing assistance from U.S. prosecutors to help make rent payments, as he has not been employed since arriving in the United States.
The FBI declined to comment.
Korkmaz is testifying for the prosecution at the trial. He told the court this week that his investigation in Turkey originally targeted Reza Zarrab, a Turkish-Iranian businessman who prosecutors have described as the mastermind of the sanctions evasion scheme, but it grew to encompass high-level officials in Turkey’s government, including Erdogan.
Zarrab was arrested and charged as a co-conspirator in the U.S. case, which largely tracks Kokmaz’s earlier investigation. But last month Zarrab secured a plea agreement with prosecutors and he has also appeared as a prosecution witness.
Like Korkmaz, Zarrab last week testified that Erdogan aided the scheme to help Iran evade sanctions
The U.S. indictment named nine co-conspirators in the case, but only Zarrab and Mehmet Hakan Atilla, an executive at Turkey’s state-owned Halkbank, were arrested. Atilla remains the only defendant standing trial. The other suspects, including a former Turkish economy minister, remain at large.
Atilla’s lawyers on December 13 asked the New York court to declare a mistrial, arguing that some of Korkmaz’s testimony should not have been allowed. Atilla has pleaded not guilty to the charges that he helped launder Iran’s money.
Erdogan has not directly responded to the charges against him aired in court, but he has dismissed the case as politically motivated and part of what he says is a conspiracy by his political enemy, the U.S.-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, to bring down his government.
Erdogan also blames Gulen and his network of followers for last year’s failed military coup against him. Gulen has denied Erdogan’s accusations.
On December 13, Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdağ denounced what he called “lies and smears” in the New York trial, and said “it is impossible for them to finish a plot in the U.S. that started in Turkey.”
With reporting by Reuters, Anadolu Agency, Enter.news, and Hurriyet Daily News