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.”


Dubai property developer Damac on hunt for land in Saudi Arabia

Hussain Sajwani
Updated 18 March 2019
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Dubai property developer Damac on hunt for land in Saudi Arabia

  • Brexit a “concern” for UK property market says Sajwani
  • Developer mulls investing “up to £500 million” on London project

LONDON: The Dubai-listed developer Damac says it is scouting for additional plots of land in Saudi Arabia, both in established cities and the Kingdom’s emerging giga-projects such as Neom.
Hussain Sajwani, chairman of Damac Properties, also said the company would look to invest up to £500 million ($660 million) on a second development in the UK, and that it is on track to deliver a record 7,000 or more units this year.
Amid a slowing property market in Dubai, Damac’s base, the developer is eying Saudi Arabia as a potential ground for expansion for its high-spec residential projects.
Damac has one development in Jeddah, and a twin-tower project in Riyadh — and Sajwani said it is looking for additional plots in the Kingdom.
“It’s a big market. It is changing, it is opening up, so we see a potential there … We are looking,” he said.
“In the Middle East, Saudi Arabia is the biggest economy … They have some very ambitious projects, like the Neom city and other large projects. We’re watching those and studying them very carefully.”
The $500 billion Neom project, which was announced in 2017, is set to be a huge economic zone with residential, commercial and tourist facilities on the Red Sea coast.
Sajwani said doing business in Saudi Arabia was “a bit more difficult or complicated” that the UAE, but said the country is opening up, citing moves to allow women to drive and reopen cinemas.
He was speaking to Arab News in Damac’s London sales office, opposite the Harrods department store in Knightsbridge. The office, kitted out in plush Versace furnishings, is selling units at Damac’s first development in the UK, the Damac Tower Nine Elms London.
The 50-storey development is in a new urban district south of the River Thames, which is also home to the US Embassy and the famous Battersea Power Station, which is being redeveloped as a residential and commercial property.
Work on Damac's tower is underway and is due to complete in late 2020 or early 2021, Sajwani said.
“We have sold more than 60 percent of the project,” he said. “It’s very mixed, we have (buyers) from the UK, from Asia, the Middle East.”
Damac’s first London project was launched in 2015, the year before the referendum on the UK exiting the EU — the result of which has had a knock-on effect on the London property market.
“Definitely Brexit has cause a lot of concern, people are not clear where the situation will go. Overall, the market has suffered because of Brexit,” Sajwani said.
“It’s going to be difficult for the coming two years at least … unless (the UK decides) to stay in the EU.”
Despite the ongoing uncertainty over Brexit, Sajwani said Damac was looking for additional plots of land in London, both in the “golden triangle” — the pricey areas of Mayfair, Belgravia and Knightsbridge, which are popular with Gulf investors — and new residential districts like Nine Elms.
Sajwani is considering an investment of “up to £500 million” on a new project in the UK capital.
“We are looking aggressively, and spending a lot of time … finding other opportunities,” he said. “Our appetite for London is there.”
Damac is also considering other international property markets for expansion, including parts of Europe and North American cities like Toronto, Boston, New York and Miami, Sajwani said.
The international drive by Damac comes, however, amid a tough property market in the developer’s home market of Dubai.
Damac in February reported that its 2018 profits fell by nearly 60 percent, with its fourth-quarter profit tumbling by 87 percent, according to Reuters calculations.
Sajwani — whose company attracted headlines for its partnership with the Trump Organization for two golf courses in Dubai — does not see any immediate recovery in the emirate’s property market, or Damac’s financial results.
“(With) the market being soft, prices being under pressure, we are part of the market — we are not going to do better than last year,” he said. “This year and next year are going to be difficult years. But it’s a great opportunity for the buyers.”
But the developer said Dubai was “very strong fundamentally,” citing factors like its advanced infrastructure, safety and security, and low taxes.
In 2018, Damac delivered over 4,100 units — a record for the company — and this year, despite the difficult market, it plans to hand over even more.
“We’re expecting north of 7,000,” Sajwani said. “This year will be another record.”