Turkey seeks arrest of US trial witness' family: report


Ankara (AFP)

Turkey on Wednesday ordered the arrest of the relatives of a witness in an explosive US trial of a Turkish banker accused of violating US sanctions against Iran, state media reported.

Huseyin Korkmaz, a former police investigator now in the United States, last week described to a New York court how he had been investigating alleged corruption in 2013 and had gathered evidence before fleeing Turkey in 2016.

Istanbul prosecutors are now seeking to detain Korkmaz's parents as well as his wife, older brother and two sisters after he apparently told the court "I have given documents to my mother to hide", state-run news agency Anadolu reported.

The agency said police officers could not find the individuals at their addresses.

Korkmaz told the court he provided US officials with documents used in a case against Mehmet Hakan Atilla, deputy chief executive of Turkish lender Halkbank, who is accused in the sanctions case.

Other people have been charged but Atilla is the only person in the dock and has pleaded not guilty.

Korkmaz is wanted in Turkey over alleged links to US-based Muslim preacher Fethullah Gulen, who Turkey claims masterminded last year's attempted overthrow of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Gulen strongly denies Ankara's accusations.

According to Anadolu, Korkmaz had used the encrypted messaging application ByLock which Ankara says was used by the Gulen movement, especially putschists.

He is also one of the suspects in Turkey's investigation into the 2013 corruption probe that targeted Erdogan, which the government has since denounced as a coup attempt, the agency said.

- Tense relations -

The warrants come as the jury will begin deliberations later on Wednesday after the three-week trial which is testing already strained ties between the US and Turkey.

Relations between the NATO allies are tense over the US failure to extradite Gulen and US support for Syrian Kurdish militia branded "terrorists" by Turkey.

A surprise in the trial's beginning came after Turkish-Iranian gold trader Reza Zarrab -- who was once close to Erdogan and his government -- was arrested in March 2016 in Miami and charged with subverting sanctions against Iran.

As the trial began last month, he appeared in court after a long time as the prosecution's star witness in the trial obsessively followed in Turkey.

Zarrab was one of the main figures of the 2013 corruption scandal in Turkey which Erdogan denounced at the time as a "dirty" plot.

During his testimony, Zarrab implicated Erdogan in a multi-million-dollar gold-for-oil scheme allegedly designed to subvert sanctions.

The US case has provoked the ire of Erdogan who has denounced the trial as a "plot" against Turkey while analysts say one or more Turkish banks face possible fines in the event of a guilty verdict.