(Reuters) - A former Turkish police investigator told jurors in a New York court on Monday of fleeing Turkey in 2016 out of fear of retaliation from the government after leading a corruption investigation involving high-ranking officials, taking his evidence with him.
Huseyin Korkmaz, 30, was testifying in Manhattan federal court for U.S. prosecutors in the trial of Mehmet Hakan Atilla, an executive at the majority state-owned Halkbank, who is accused of taking part in a scheme with gold trader Reza Zarrab to help Iran evade U.S. sanctions.
Halkbank has denied involvement with any illegal transactions. Zarrab, a Turkish and Iranian national, has pleaded guilty and testified against Atilla, saying he used fraudulent food and gold transactions to launder money for Iran with the help of Atilla and others.
Atilla has pleaded not guilty.
“I took my wife and my daughter and I left the country that I dearly love,” Korkmaz testified. He said he eventually came to the United States with the help of U.S. law enforcement authorities, bringing audio recordings and other evidence from his investigation.
U.S. prosecutors have charged a total of nine people in the case. Only Zarrab, 34, and Atilla, 47, have been arrested by U.S. authorities.
Korkmaz testified on Monday that he began investigating Zarrab in 2012 for smuggling gold and money laundering.
He told the jury that the investigation expanded to encompass government officials including President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, then prime minister, and Zafer Caglayan, then finance minister, and former Halkbank general manager Suleyman Aslan.
Korkmaz did not give details about any thread of his investigation that included Erdogan.
Erdogan was never charged and he has called the Turkish investigation a “judicial coup” and has said the U.S. case is politically motivated.
Caglayan and Aslan have not spoken publicly about the case, and Reuters was unable to reach them for comment.
Korkmaz testified that he ordered searches of multiple individuals’ homes in December 2013 and that evidence of bribes from Zarrab was found in Aslan’s home.
Korkmaz said that he never saw evidence that Atilla had taken bribes.
He testified that soon after the searches, he was reassigned to another unit.
He told the jury that he decided to leave Turkey in 2016 because another prosecutor had requested an order for his arrest and he did not feel safe.
Reporting By Brendan Pierson in New York; Editing by Alden Bentley, Toni Reinhold