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.”


Pakistan rupee set to come under more pressure

Updated 27 May 2018
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Pakistan rupee set to come under more pressure

  • Exchange companies are required to maintain record of all buy and sell transactions equivalent to $500
  • Dollar supply declines from $3m per day to only $1m as buyer and seller decline to share identification data

KARACHI: The Pakistan rupee could face further pressure this week, in the midst of the country’s chronic foreign currency shortage and speculation of a third currency devaluation, analysts said.
The currency, which has been exposed to rising external financing requirements and lower remittances, touched 119.05 rupees to the dollar on Friday, closing at 118.70 rupees to the dollar on Saturday in the open market.
“People think that in coming days the rupee would be further under pressure due to increasing demand for the dollar so they start buying anticipating a dollar shortage,” Zeeshan Afzal, executive director-research at Insight Securities, told Arab News.
“Perception and real need (demand) drives the currency exchange market in both ways,” he said.
The rupee has been impacted by Pakistan’s historic high current account deficit of $14 billion that has widened because of increasing imports, insufficient exports and workers’ remittances.
“In Ramadan, the inflow of remittances has declined, demand for dollar from those going for Umrah has increased,” Muzamil Aslam, senior economist and CEO of EFG-Hermes Pakistan told Arab News.
Ratings agency Moody’s Investors Service last week forecast that the rupee could weaken to 125 to the dollar by June of next year.
The country’s central bank has already let the currency decline by 10 percent against the dollar in the past six months via devaluations in December and March.
Demand for dollars usually comes from general public, investors and importers, said Afzal.
“As our imports are more than our exports and other foreign exchange inflows, the pressure on US dollar (reserves) keeps mounting,” he said.

 

Pakistan is also taking steps against money laundering as part of its international commitment to combat terror financing, ahead of a meeting of the Financial Action Task Force meeting in June, when Pakistan will be greylisted.
As part of the measures, State Bank of Pakistan recently directed currency exchange companies to maintain records of identification documents of customers for all foreign currency transactions worth $500 or more, in line with similar thresholds in other international jurisdictions.
“The move of State Bank of Pakistan is aimed at documenting the transactions in order to discourage terror financing,” said Afzal, who added that such requirements had little impact on exchange rates.
But foreign exchange dealers have claimed that lowering the transaction threshold for identification requirements from $2,500 to $500 has negatively impacted business.
“Our daily surplus supply of dollar was around $3 million per day until a week ago, when the central bank’s measures were not enforced,”,Malik Bostan, president of the Forex Association of Pakistan, told Arab News.
“Now the supply is now down to only $1 million per day as currency exchange business has shifted to unregistered dealers.”
“There are around 30,000 unlicensed currency dealers all over Pakistan,” he claimed, adding that the majority of buyers and sellers do not want to share their identification and choose to go to unregistered dealers.
“We have asked the central bank to come up with necessary laws to protect registered currency dealers,” Bostan said. 
“Despite facing adverse business situation we have assured our support to central bank to take whatever steps are needed to get the Pakistan off the grey list of FATF.”
He said that the pressure on the dollar was unusual in the month of Ramadan when dollar inflows typically rise.

FACTOID

Pakistan's current account deficit has reached a historic high of about $14 billion.