A U.S.-based nongovernmental organization (NGO) known for its anti-Turkey bias rewarded agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) for their part in the collection of evidence against a Turkish bank and its executive in a case that Turkey argues is tainted by illegally obtained and doctored documents.
The Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), a neoconservative think tank, presented the awards to the agents at a ceremony in Washington, D.C., commending their efforts in collecting evidence against Turkish-Iranian gold trader Reza Zarrab and Halkbank's former Deputy General Manager Mehmet Hakan Atilla.
Zarrab later turned state witness, testifying against Atilla and Turkey. Almost all the evidence collected by the FBI was in fact provided to agents by Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ) operatives, who had used similarly tampered evidence to launch a series of investigations in December 2013 against senior government officials in an effort to topple the Turkish government, which is seen as a judicial coup attempt.
Zarrab, 34, was arrested on March 16, 2016, before turning into a state witness in October 2017 and testifying against Atilla, who was arrested in March last year while on a business trip in the U.S. Zarrab has accepted all the charges against him, including the violation of U.S. sanctions on Iran and money laundering.
Atilla's lawyers often questioned Zarrab's credibility during the trial; however, a New York jury found Atilla guilty in January on five counts related to conspiracy and bank fraud based on Zarrab's testimony and evidence provided by FETÖ.
The Turkish government rejected the charges against the banker as politically motivated. Ankara said that the so-called "evidence" mentioned in court was illegal under U.S. law, as most of it were collected using dubious means, including tampered recordings and documents.
FBI AGENTS REFER TO FETÖ SUSPECT AS HERO
One of the FBI agents who was given an award, Jennifer McReynolds, admitted that the main evidence in Atilla case were wiretap recordings, which were illegally obtained by FETÖ members.
"Atilla, like many others, had been on our radar since the beginning. As we gathered more and more evidence and dug through the Turkish wiretaps and records, we learned just how much he and Halkbank not only knew of Zarrab's scheme, but helped to design it," she said.
She also mentioned Hüseyin Korkmaz, a fugitive FETÖ suspect who was revealed as a witness in the Atilla case, as a "hero."
Turkey accuses FETÖ for orchestrating the July 15, 2016 coup attempt which resulted in the killing of 250 civilians, and has long been demanding the extradition of its leader, Fetullah Gülen, who has been residing in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania since 1999. Turkish ambassador to Washington Serdar Kılıç criticized the award and McReynolds' remarks about Korkmaz, calling on FBI agents to disclose how Korkmaz was brought from Turkey and became a key witness in the case.
"I wonder why she shies away from disclosing facts also on who brought the so-called key witness to the U.S., who paid for his travel and provided and paid for his accommodation in the U.S. and who encouraged him to present the fabricated evidence in court," he said.
Korkmaz was a critical witness for the prosecution and stood out for his contradictory statements. He initially denied any involvement in the December 2013 judicial coup before admitting that he was at the head of a team of eight police officers leading one of the investigations.
Adam Klasfeld, a reporter for Courthouse News, speaking following the end of the trial last December, said the FBI had given Korkmaz $50,000 in "financial assistance." According to his testimony, Kormaz has not been employed in the U.S. and also received "help with his rent" from the prosecutor's office.
The ambassador also said that McReynolds' statement confirmed Turkish government's allegations on the politically-motivated nature of the case.
"Her biased statement at the event is an explicit testimony to the politicized nature of that case and real motivations behind it. She knows better than anyone else who fabricated those so called evidences/wiretaps and what their ill intentions were," Kılıç said.
FDD INVOLVEMENT IN THE ATILLA CASE
The FDD's involvement also stirred controversy when the judge overseeing the trial, Richard Berman, ruled for two senior FDD executives, CEO Mark Dubowitz and Senior Vice President Jonathan Schanzer, to attend the hearing as experts.
Defense lawyers objected to the decision, arguing that the nongovernmental organization was openly antagonistic toward Turkey.
Schanzer, who handed out the awards in Tuesday's ceremony, was a leading member of the "FDD-Turkey Program," whose website features a number of articles openly targeting Turkey and its policies. He reportedly has a close working relationship with Republican People's Party (CHP) former Bursa Deputy Aykan Erdemir, who in 2013 attended FETÖ's Rumi Forum as a guest speaker.
Furthermore, leaked emails of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) ambassador to Washington, Yousef al-Otaiba, indicated a close relationship between him and Schanzer. In some of the leaked emails, the two discussed their joint strategy against Turkey and Qatar.