US jury asks about partial verdict in Turkish banker's trial

January 03, 2018 - 11:12 am

NEW YORK (AP) — A jury deliberating the fate of a Turkish banker charged with helping Iran evade U.S. economic sanctions asked a judge Wednesday what happens if it reaches a verdict on only some charges in a trial that has angered Turkey government officials.

The Manhattan federal court jury asked the question in its first hour of work after returning from holiday break in the trial of Halkbank executive Mehmet Hakan Atilla. The trial has drawn heated criticism from Turkish leaders, who say it is designed to discredit the government of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The jury was off all last week for the holidays.

Judge Richard M. Berman said the jury's question did not indicate they were deadlocked so he instructed them to continue their work.

The deliberations came a day after Berman rejected a second mistrial request by Atilla's defense lawyers, who complained about a question a prosecutor asked Atilla when he testified.

Berman wrote that there was no necessity for a mistrial because Atilla "has received a thoroughly fair and transparent trial." He noted that Atilla has a "very professional defense team" with lawyers who are "alert and aggressive on behalf of their client."

Atilla, 47, has pleaded not guilty to charges that he helped Iran launder oil and gas revenues through world banks, including in the U.S.

The trial attracted considerable interest in Turkey, where government officials repeatedly attacked U.S. prosecutors. They said the prosecutors coerced the testimony of Reza Zarrab, a gold trader well known in Turkey who pleaded guilty and testified for a week that he participated in a conspiracy to aid Iran.

Zarrab, a 34-year-old Turkish Iranian businessman, was arrested in March 2016 in Florida as he arrived in the U.S. to take his wife and daughter to Disney World. Atilla was arrested a year later when he came to the U.S. to meet with investors.

Zarrab is married to Turkish pop star and TV personality Ebru Gundes. He testified he was told Erdogan signed off on the scheme to help Iran evade sanctions while Erdogan was the nation's prime minister.

He also testified that he paid tens of millions of dollars in bribes to government officials and bankers to help the conspiracy succeed.

But he said he never paid a bribe to Atilla.

Atilla's attorney, Victor Rocco, said his client was not corrupt. He called Atilla a "blameless pawn, collateral damage in a story that belongs in the 'Twilight Zone,' not an American courtroom."

In his testimony, Atilla said he acted professionally and legally. Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Lockard said Atilla lied on the witness stand to protect his job as one of his employer's top executives.

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