US prosecutors charged a former Turkish economy minister and a former Halkbank manager with conspiring to evade US sanctions against Iran in a case targeting gold trader Reza Zarrab. Ankara dismisses the case as politically motivated.

Turkeys outgoing Economy Minister Zafer Caglayan waves as he arrives at a handover ceremony in Ankara, December 26, 2013.
Turkeys outgoing Economy Minister Zafer Caglayan waves as he arrives at a handover ceremony in Ankara, December 26, 2013. (Reuters)

US prosecutors have charged a former Turkish economy minister and a former general manager of Turkey's Halkbank with conspiring to evade US sanctions against Iran, a US attorney's office said in a filing.

The indictment broadens a case targeting Turkish-Iranian gold trader Reza Zarrab over sanctions evasion.

The new charges targeted former economy minister Zafer Caglayan and former Halkbank general manager Suleyman Aslan and two others, according to the filing, dated Wednesday, from the US attorney's office in the Southern District of New York.                

Turkey's economy minister said on Thursday that his predecessor had done nothing to harm his country.

"Caglayan did not do anything against Turkey's interests," Nihat Zeybekci told reporters. 

Zeybekci said the US had yet to makes it case against Caglayan. "There are claims that these sanctions are violated, but the ones who claim these things are obliged to prove them."

Halkbank on Thursday said all its transactions have fully complied with national and international regulations.

"It would appear there is news about our bank and some of its former managers which misleads the public and investors," Halkbank said in a statement to the Istanbul stock exchange.

Scope of US charges

Caglayan and Aslan were charged with "conspiring to use the US financial system" to conduct illegal transactions on behalf of the Government of Iran and other Iranian entities. 

Zarrab was arrested in March 2016 and a deputy general manager of Halkbank was charged in March of this year in the same case.

At the time, Turkish Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag said the case was "completely political." He said there was no evidence incriminating Mehmet Hakan Atilla, a deputy chief executive officer of Halkbank, or Zarrab.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said US authorities have "ulterior motives" in prosecuting Zarrab.

Zarrab pleads not guilty

Zarrab,  an Iranian-born Turkish citizen, pleaded not guilty in April 2016 to the charges.

He was arrested in March 2016 in Miami after being charged by the Manhattan office of US Attorney Preet Bharara.

Bharara suspected of links to Gulen's network

Zarrab has been at the centre of a graft investigation in Turkey since December 2013 when a wave of arrests that targeted, in particular, businessmen, politicians and bureaucrats with ties to the Turkish government.

However, he was released without charge two months later.

Those behind the wave of arrests stand accused of having links to the Fetullah Terrorist Organisation (FETO), the acronym Turkey uses for the network of US-based Fetullah Gulen, whom Ankara accuses of masterminding the failed July 2016 coup in Turkey, a charge Gulen denies.

At the time of Zarrab's 2013 arrest in Turkey, FETO was allegedly attempting to overthrow the government, through its "parallel state" structure within Turkey's political, judicial and military institutions.

Ankara suspects Bharara – whom President Donald Trump fired as a US Attorney in March – of links to FETO. Bharara was a former counsel to New York Senator Chuck Schumer, who allegedly received thousands of dollars in donations from FETO members in the United States.

In addition to Caglayan and Aslan, the new indictment charged another former bank executive, Levent Balkan; and Abdullah Happani, an associate of Zarrab.

None of the four defendants charged on Wednesday are in US custody, prosecutors said.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies