Turkish banker expected to testify in Iran sanctions trial in New York

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By Brendan Pierson

(Reuters) – Mehmet Hakan Atilla, a Turkish banker accused of taking part in a scheme to help Iran evade U.S. sanctions, plans to testify in his own defence at his trial in New York, his lawyers said Thursday.

A lawyer for Atilla told U.S. District Judge Richard Berman in Manhattan federal court on Thursday that Atilla, an executive at Turkey’s majority state-owned Halkbank, would testify. The announcement came shortly after prosecutors said they had finished presenting their case.

Prosecutors have accused Atilla, 47, of working with Turkish-Iranian gold trader Reza Zarrab and others to help Iran evade U.S. sanctions through fraudulent gold and food transactions.

Atilla has pleaded not guilty. Zarrab, 34, pleaded guilty and testified for U.S. prosecutors.

The case has strained ties between the United States and Turkey. A spokesman for the Turkish government has called the case a “plot against Turkey.”

The prosecutors’ last witness was Huseyin Korkmaz, a former Turkish police investigator.

Korkmaz testified that while investigating claims that Zarrab was laundering money in 2012 and 2013, he uncovered evidence that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, then prime minister, and Zafer Caglayan, then economy minister, were working with Zarrab.

Korkmaz also said that Halkbank’s then-general manager, Suleyman Aslan, took bribes from Zarrab, but that there was no evidence Atilla took bribes.

Caglayan, Aslan and a spokesman for Erdogan could not be reached for comment.

Erdogan, who has governed Turkey for almost 15 years, has dismissed the case as a politically inspired attempt to bring down the Turkish government.

(Reporting By Brendan Pierson in New York; editing by Clive McKeef)

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