U.S. jury in trial of Turkish banker shows signs of division

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By Brendan Pierson

NEWYORK (Reuters) – A New York jury in the trial of a Turkish banker accused of helping Iran evade U.S. sanctions showed signs of division on Friday as it ended its third day of deliberations without reaching a verdict.

In a note to U.S. District Judge Richard Berman, the jurors asked whether they were all “required to use the same criteria” as they weighed a money laundering charge in the case against Mehmet Hakan Atilla, an executive at Turkey’s majority state-owned Halkbank. Berman said the answer was yes.

The jury is expected to come back on Jan. 3 to continue deliberating.

The charges against Atilla include money laundering, bank fraud and conspiracy to violate the U.S. law authorizing sanctions against Iran.

The three-week trial featured testimony from Turkish-Iranian gold trader Reza Zarrab, who pleaded guilty to charges of violating sanctions and testified for U.S. prosecutors, and from Huseyin Korkmaz, a former Turkish police officer who said he investigated Zarrab in 2012 and 2013.

Zarrab testified that Atilla helped design fraudulent transactions of gold and food that allowed Iran to spend its oil and gas revenues abroad, including through U.S. financial institutions, defying U.S. sanctions.

Both Zarrab and Korkmaz implicated Turkish officials in their testimony, including President Tayyip Erdogan.

Attempts to reach Erdogan’s spokesman for comment on the allegations at the trial have been unsuccessful. Erdogan has publicly dismissed the case as a politically motivated attack on his government.

Korkmaz testified that he was jailed in retaliation for his investigation and eventually fled Turkey last year.

An Istanbul prosecutor has issued arrest warrants for Korkmaz’s parents, the Hurriyet newspaper reported on Wednesday. Korkmaz testified that he left some evidence from his investigation with his mother.

Atilla, testifying in his own defence at the trial, denied all the charges against him.

Halkbank has denied taking part in any illegal transactions.

Jurors began deliberating Wednesday afternoon. On Thursday, they sent notes asking to review a part of Korkmaz’s testimony. They also asked for clarification of a part Berman’s legal instructions.

U.S. prosecutors charged nine people in the criminal case, though only Zarrab, 34, and Atilla, 47, were arrested by U.S. authorities.

(Reporting By Brendan Pierson; Editing by Alistair Bell)

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