Turkey detains 17 for sending documents to US

As Turkish-Iranian gold trader Reza Zarrab revealed his tactics and accomplices within the Turkish government in violating US sanctions on Iran in New York federal court, Turkey on Tuesday detained a total of 17 people who allegedly sent documents to the US, the state-run Anadolu news agency reported.

According to the report police sources said three of the suspects had been previously detained, and the remainder were taken into custody on Tuesday as part of an investigation launched into Zarrab by the İstanbul Public Prosecutor’s Office.

Three suspects — identified as Sinem A., Regaip A. and Mustafa H. — were working with Zarrab and allegedly sent documents to the US concerning the legal proceedings in which he is testifying as a key witness there, noted the report.

The property of Zarrab and his family members was seized on Thursday as part of an investigation into espionage and providing confidential official information to a foreign government, launched by the Istanbul Public Prosecutor’s Office. According to a media report, the decision was taken as a measure to prevent Zarrab from smuggling his property outside Turkey.

Zarrab and eight other people, including Turkey’s former economy minister and three Halkbank executives, have been charged with engaging in transactions worth hundreds of millions of dollars for Iran’s government and Iranian entities from 2010 to 2015 in a scheme to evade US sanctions.

Zarrab testified in federal court on Wednesday that he had bribed Turkey’s former economy minister, Mehmet Zafer Çağlayan, in a billion-dollar scheme to smuggle gold for oil in violation of US sanctions on Iran.

On Thursday Zarrab said that Turkey’s then-prime minister and current president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, personally authorized the involvement of Turkish banks in a scheme to evade US sanctions on Iran.

Zarrab also said for the first time on Thursday that Turkey’s Ziraat Bank and VakıfBank were involved in the scheme and that former Deputy Prime Minister Ali Babacan signed off with Erdoğan on the operation.

The Turkish-Iranian gold trader on Monday said he made payments to secure his release in February 2014 and that those payments were partly bribes.

Zarrab was the prime suspect in a major corruption investigation in Turkey that became public in December 2013 and implicated the inner circle of the ruling AKP government and then-Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Zarrab was alleged to have paid Cabinet-level officials and bank officers bribes to facilitate transactions benefiting Iran.

After Erdoğan cast the case as a coup attempt to overthrow his government orchestrated by his political enemies, several prosecutors were removed from the case, police were reassigned and the investigation against Zarrab was dropped in Turkey.

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