The Wall Street Journal: Erdogan ordered Turkish banks to launder Iranian money, witness says

NEW YORK — A U.S. government witness in the trial of a prominent Turkish banker said Thursday that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan approved transactions aimed at helping Iran circumvent U.S. economic sanctions, testimony that could further strain U.S.-Turkish relations.

The witness, Reza Zarrab, said he was told by a top Turkish official around 2012 that Erdogan had instructed two of Turkey’s largest banks, Ziraat Bank and VakifBank, to begin helping Iran launder its money.

Read: Opinion: Trump’s vision for America is Erdogan’s Turkey

The accusation came during the trial of Mehmet Hakan Atilla, who worked at another Turkish bank and is accused of participating in a multinational operation to help Iran make payments that violated U.S. sanctions. Atilla has pleaded not guilty.

State-run media in Turkey have cast the trial as a conspiracy by Erdogan’s detractors to oust him from office, accusations that U.S. officials have denied. Erdogan and his allies have repeatedly raised their concerns about the trial with the Trump administration, which has tried to repair relations with Turkey that had frayed in the final years of the Obama administration. Erdogan’s direct implication in the alleged scheme — it was the first time his name was cited since the trial began on Tuesday — could frustrate those efforts.

An expanded version of this report appears on WSJ.com.

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