MANHATTAN (CN) – After delivering testimony implicating Turkey’s top officials in corruption, a former Istanbul police officer on Tuesday tied a manager at his nation’s state-run bank to enormous financial transactions that U.S. prosecutors contend violated sanctions here against Iran.
Now cooperating with the government, ex-officer Huseyin Korkmaz has been testifying for two days against former Halkbank manager Mehmet Hakan Atilla.
Along the way, Korkmaz told a New York jury how he led an investigation in which then-Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan had been known to Istanbul police as “No. 1.”
Korkmaz also previously testified Turkish police were watching Halkbank’s former general manager Suleyman Aslan, Turkey’s former Minister of the Economy Zafer Caglayan, and Muammer Guler, Turkey’s ex-interior minister.
On Tuesday, Korkmaz turned his sightlines to the man on trial, referring to evidence that he said he found on the cellphone of gold trader Reza Zarrab, a former Erdogan ally who is now cooperating with the U.S. government.
“I talked to Hakan,” Zarrab said in a transcript of a phone conversation, according to Korkmaz. “They're going to transfer soon.”
Korkmaz added later that he recognized the last four digits of two phone numbers: Atilla’s and Zarrab’s.
Such testimony could prove crucial for prosecutors to prove that Atilla played an important role in a scheme in which his attorneys contend he was at best, a minor player.
A day earlier, Korkmaz had narrated an epic story of his investigation of top Turkish officials, which ended with his reassignment from Istanbul to a distant corner of Turkey in the city of Hakkari.
That was only a prelude to incarceration in a Turkish prison, and a dramatic escape from the country of his birth through three other nations before coming to the United States with the help of prosecutors here.
Before fleeing, Korkmaz said, he gathered all of the evidence of the cases he had been building, and prosecutors entered more of that evidence into the record today.
On top of the investigation that Korkmaz worked on, which ended with a series of arrests on Dec. 17, 2013, the 30-year-old officer said there was a second one that concluded a little more than a week later on Dec. 25.
Whereas Korkmaz did not explain earlier whether “No. 1” was a code name for Erdogan because he was a target, the former officer left no doubt on the witness stand about this second investigation.
“Apparently there was another investigation that is known by the public as the December 25 investigation,” Korkmaz said. “That was conducted by the Financial Crimes Unit also, but that was not related to the investigation that I was conducting on Mr. Reza Zarrab.”
“And apparently,” he continued, “this investigation known as the 25th of December investigation, involved corruption by certain individuals including the then-Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, also Bilal Erdogan, and other ministers, such as Binali Yildirim.”
Now Erdogan’s successor, Yildirim currently serves as Turkey’s prime minister. Erdogan is now the country’s president.
After Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Lockard ends his questioning of Korkmaz, one of Atilla’s attorneys is expected to cross-examine him.
That cross-examination may focus on the financial assistance that Korkmaz acknowledged receiving from the U.S. government, including $50,000 from the FBI and housing assistance from the prosecutors.
Korkmaz said that he received this help, but did not ask for it, because he is now unemployed.
While a large amount of money in Turkey, Korkmaz’s assistance from the FBI is below the median income of the average family in both the United States and New York, which is the most expensive city in the nation.
Korkmaz, who will return to the witness stand on Wednesday, previously testified that he has a wife and daughter.