Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan personally intervened in a scheme that allowed Iran to dodge US and UN sanctions, a gold trader with ties to Ankara claimed in a court testimony here. It is the first time Erdogan has been named in the closely-watched US criminal case over Iran’s violations of international sanctions and movement of billions of dollars, reports CNN. The case’s central figure, Reza Zarrab, an Iranian-Turkish gold trader, was arrested in Miami last year and has since been the case’s top named defendant. There are eight other defendants facing similar charges.
He cut a plea deal last month and admitted to defrauding the US, money laundering, and bank fraud, according to court documents. On Thursday, Zarrab testified in the federal court about Erdogan’s alleged role in his scheme, which involved laundering funds from Iranian oil and gas sales through Turkish banks, including the state-run bank, Halkbank.
Zarrab testified that when the amount of money illegally flowing through Turkey’s Halkbank became too much to handle, Erdogan approved getting two more Turkish banks involved: VakifBank and Ziraat Bank, CNN reported. Zarrab said he received this information from the government official he claims to have bribed to take part in the scheme, former Turkish Economy Minister Zafer Caglayan. Caglayan has denied all allegations.
Later Thursday, Erdogan responded to Zarrab’s testimony, saying Turkey “did the right thing” and did not violate US sanctions against Iran, according to CNN Turk. In their court filings, the US government has not alleged that Erdogan cooperated in the scheme.