US jury pauses Iran sanctions trial deliberations until January

New York (AFP) –


The US jury in the explosive Iran sanctions-busting trial of a Turkish banker paused Friday for the Christmas holiday without reaching a verdict and will resume deliberations on January 3.

The 12-member panel ended a third day of deliberations without reaching a consensus on the charges and requested that Judge Richard Berman dismiss them until January 3, after the Christmas and New Year holidays.

They are tasked with deciding the fate of deputy chief executive of Turkish lender Halkbank, Mehmet Hakan Atilla, charged with violating US economic sanctions against Iran, bribery and money laundering.

In a trial that has strained relations between Ankara and Washington, Iranian-Turkish mogul Reza Zarrab admitted being involved in the multi-billion-dollar gold-for-oil scheme, and implicated former Turkish ministers and even President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The 34-year-old was arrested by US authorities in March 2016 after jetting to Florida with his pop-star wife and child on a family holiday to Disney World. Shortly before the trial got underway, he cut an apparent plea bargain.

The defense has called Zarrab a "liar and a briber" and 47-year-old Atilla an "honest, hard-working man." US prosecutors say Atilla is the liar.

Any conviction risks further straining relations between Erdogan and President Donald Trump, already damaged by rows over the war in Syria and US prosecution of Turkish presidential bodyguards.

It could also lead to US sanctions on the Turkish banking sector, beginning with Halkbank. The Turkish lender denies any suggestion that it violated US sanctions, saying it had "not been a party" to any "illegal" transaction.