Turkey slams US sentencing of Turkish banker on Iran scheme

In this courtroom sketch Mehmet Hakan Atilla, second from left, listens to the judge during his sentencing, flanked by his attorneys Cathy Fleming, left, and Victor Rocco as Atilla’s wife, upper right, listens to the proceedings Wednesday, May 16, 2018, in New York. US District Judge Richard Berman imposed a sentence of 32 months in prison on the Turkish banker convicted of helping Iran evade US sanctions. (Elizabeth Williams via AP)
Updated 17 May 2018
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Turkey slams US sentencing of Turkish banker on Iran scheme

  • Turkish government spokesman Bekir Bozdag said Thursday on Twitter that no country has the right to “judge Turkey or Turkish institutions or punish Turkey.”
  • The trial of the banker has strained the ties further, even though Atilla received a sentence that was seen as lenient

ISTANBUL: Turkey has criticized the sentencing of a Turkish banker in the United States over his role in helping Iran evade US economic sanctions, in a case that has further strained ties between the two countries.
In a statement late Wednesday, the Foreign Ministry called the trial against Mehmet Hakan Atilla, an employee of Turkish state-run Halkbank, “an entirely feigned process which is inconsistent with the principle of fair trial.”
Turkish government spokesman Bekir Bozdag said Thursday on Twitter that no country has the right to “judge Turkey or Turkish institutions or punish Turkey.”
Bozdag accused the US and the court that tried the case of a plot against Turkey carried out in tandem with a US-based Muslim cleric, Fethullah Gulen, whom Turkey accuses of leading a failed coup in 2016.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accuses Gulen of attempting to overthrow the Turkish government and has demanded that the US extradite him. Gulen, who lives in Pennsylvania, has denied the allegations. His freedom in the US has angered Turkey and caused a rift between the NATO allies.
The trial of the banker has strained the ties further, even though Atilla received a sentence that was seen as lenient.
A US judge on Wednesday ordered Atilla to spend 32 months in prison, including 14 months he has already served after his arrest last year during a business trip to New York on behalf of Halkbank. The sentence means Atilla can return to Turkey in about a year.
US probation authorities had called for a life sentence and prosecutors had argued for a 20-year sentence.
Prosecutors maintained that Atilla used his position as Halkbank’s deputy general manager for international banking to help build and protect a scheme that enabled billions of dollars in profits from Iranian oil sales to flow through world financial markets since 2011.
The US judge justified the shorted sentence arguing that Atilla was just a reluctant “cog in the wheel” of the alleged scheme.
The trial, which ended in January, had featured testimony about corruption at top levels of the Turkish government.
The key witness in the case was Reza Zarrab, an Iranian-Turkish gold trader, who testified he paid over $50 million in bribes to a former Turkish finance minister to help the sanction-busting scheme.
But the testimony that drew Turkey’s fury was from a former Turkish deputy police chief involved in a 2013 corruption investigation into the Zarrab scheme that broadened to include top Turkish politicians.
The government has accused Huseyin Korkmaz of links to Gulen and had dubbed the 2013 investigation a “judicial coup” against the government.
The Foreign Ministry said the evidence presented “eradicated the legitimacy of the trial.”
It also said the court made an “unprecedented decision” in the implementation of US sanctions laws by convicting and sentencing Atilla, “a foreign government official.”


Merkel seeks united front with China amid Trump trade fears

Updated 22 May 2018
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Merkel seeks united front with China amid Trump trade fears

  • Merkel seeks common ground to ward off trade war
  • Plans complicated by US policy moves

Chancellor Angela Merkel visits China on Thursday, seeking to close ranks with the world’s biggest exporting nation as US President Donald Trump shakes up explosive issues from trade to Iran’s nuclear deal.

Finding a common strategy to ward off a trade war and keep markets open will be Merkel’s priority when she meets with President Xi Jinping, as Washington brandishes the threat of imposing punitive tariffs on aluminum and steel imports.

“Both countries are in agreement that open markets and rules-based world trade are necessary. That’s the main focus of this trip,” Merkel’s spokeswoman Martina Fietz said in Berlin on Friday.

But closing ranks with Beijing against Washington risks being complicated by Saturday’s deal between China and the US to hold off tit-for-tat trade measures.

China’s economic health can only benefit Germany as the Asian giant is a big buyer of Made in Germany. But a deal between the US and China effectively leaves Berlin as the main target of Trump’s campaign against foreign imports that he claims harm US national security.

The US leader had already singled Germany out for criticism, saying it had “taken advantage” of the US by spending less than Washington on NATO.

Underlining what is at stake, French Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire warned the US-China deal may come “at the expense of Europe if Europe is not capable of showing a firm hand.”

Nevertheless, Merkel can look to her carefully nurtured relationship with China over her 12 years as chancellor.

No Western leader has visited Beijing as often as Merkel, who will be undertaking her eleventh trip to the country.

In China, she is viewed not only as the main point of contact for Europe, but, crucially, also as a reliable interlocutor — an antithesis of the mercurial Trump.

Devoting her weekly podcast to her visit, Merkel stressed that Beijing and Berlin “are both committed to the rules of the WTO” (World Trade Organization) and want to “strengthen multilateralism.”

But she also underlined that she will press home Germany’s longstanding quest for reciprocity in market access as well as the respect of intellectual property.

Ahead of her visit, Beijing fired off a rare salvo of criticism.

China’s envoy to Germany, Shi Mingde, pointed to a “protectionist trend in Germany,” as he complained about toughened rules protecting German companies from foreign takeovers.

Only 0.3 percent of foreign investors in Germany stem from China while German firms have put in €80 billion in the Asian giant over the last three decades, he told Stuttgarter Nachrichten.

“Economic exchange cannot work as a one-way street,” he warned.

Meanwhile, looming over the battle on the trade front is another equally thorny issue — the historic Iran nuclear deal, which risks falling apart after Trump pulled the US out.

Tehran has demanded that Europe keeps the deal going by continuing economic cooperation, but the US has warned European firms of sanctions if they fail to pull out of Iran.

Merkel “hopes that China can help save the atomic deal that the US has unilaterally ditched,” said Die Welt daily.

“Because only the giant emerging economy can buy enough raw materials from Iran to give the Mullah regime an incentive to at least officially continue to not build a nuclear weapon.”