Iran Sanctions: Turkish Banker Arrested in US

A well-known ally of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Mehmet Hakan Atilla, a Turkish banker, arrived in the United States earlier this week to speak to investors about new dollar bonds that his (state) bank is planning to sell. 

However, Atilla was arrested on Monday by US authorities in New York at the John F. Kennedy International Airport and was charged with colluding to violate sanctions. He is said to have teamed up with Turkish gold trader Reza Zarrab and they had plans to carry out illegal transactions that would direct hundreds of millions of dollars from the US to the Iranian government.

Joon Kim, the acting US Attorney said that the sanctions imposed by the United States “are not mere requests or suggestions” – they are the law. 

In a document filed in the court, US authorities claimed that Atilla “protected and hid Zarrab’s ability to provide access to international financial network”. They add that currency and gold has been sent to Iran with paperwork being forged to indicate the shipments were food. This was done so that humanitarian exemptions to the sanctions would apply. 

The Turkish Foreign Minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, said to media that the Turkish government is going to discuss the case with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson during his visit to the Turkish capital this week. 

This is adding to the already existing tensions between the two countries because of the Syrian war and Turkey’s request for Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen’s extradition (leadership in Turkey blames Gulen for the failed coup in Turkey last year). 

Speaking about the recent arrest of Atilla, journalist Ihan Tani said: “For the U.S., it is a case of sanctions law violation. But some people close to the Turkish president seem to be involved with Reza Zarrab.”

Tani added that there is fear that the issue will turn into a full diplomatic dispute, but noted that Atilla was aware he was a suspect in the case – it was a risk that he took, and now he has to deal with the consequences. 

More and more sanctions are being imposed on Iran in efforts to curb its destructive actions. President Trump who has spoken openly about his disdain for the Iran nuclear deal is adamant that Iran does not get away with its destruction without being held accountable. 

President Trump strongly criticised President Obama’s treatment of Iran, saying that he let the Iranian regime carry out infractions of the nuclear deal without so much as a whisper of criticism. The Trump administration has vowed to act firmly and aggressively towards Iran.