The name of Berat Albayrak, the son in-law of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan who last week resigned as Turkey’s treasury and finance minister, is involved in an ongoing US sanctions-busting case against Turkey’s state-owned Halkbank. Albayrak enjoyed close relations with Jared Kushner, the son-in-law of outgoing US President Donald Trump, and the Halkbank case almost ground to a halt under Trump’s watch. In the event that President-elect Joe Biden’s mandate sees the case reinvigorated, Albayrak could find himself in the crosshairs of the US justice system.
Halkbank’s alleged role in circumventing US sanctions against Iran had first come up in a 2013 corruption probe in Turkey. At the time Erdoğan avoided a potential prosecution of his inner circle by purging and imprisoning all the police officers involved in the investigation as well as the prosecutor who opened the case.
Months later, the case was brought up in New York federal court; however, it was ultimately brought to a standstill amid the warm relations between Trump and Erdoğan and between their respective sons-in-law, Kushner and Albayrak. An Oval Office picture of Trump, Albayrak and Kushner together had sent a strong message to that effect.
After Trump failed to be re-elected, commentators predicted that Biden’s presidency would be difficult for Turkey and that the Halkbank case would accelerate.
One of the names that the case files frequently refer to — Berat Albayrak — used to be head of Aktif Bank, which during the scheme was the backup bank used for the transfer of billions of dollars by Reza Zarrab, the Turkish-Iranian businessman who played a key role in the operations and who is currently thought to be in a witness protection program in the US.
Aktif Bank is not Albayrak’s only connection to the Halkbank case. Murat Uysal, who was supported by Albayrak for governor of Turkey’s central bank, is Halkbank’s former deputy director general. Uysal was removed from his job a day before Albayrak’s resignation, which was interpreted as the main motive behind the former minister’s abrupt and unexpected decision.
Former Erdoğan associate: The resignation has to do with the cases in the US
Abdüllatif Şener, an opposition deputy who was among the founders of Erdoğan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), believes the US election was what prompted Erdoğan to sacrifice even his own son-in-law.
Speaking to the Mesopotamia news agency, Şener said: “There is an ongoing case in the US about Halkbank and the assets of the Erdoğan family, which was halted by Trump. Now that Trump has been defeated, I think Erdoğan is convinced that Biden and his administration will take a more determined stance in these cases. This is where the friction between Erdoğan and Albayrak might have come from.”
“Zarrab confirmed in court hearings that he repeatedly met with Albayrak, and that must be shown in the court records. We know that Zarrab had accounts at Aktif Bank, where Albayrak was the director general at the time. The fact that Albayrak repeatedly met with Zarrab during and after the graft probe, the fact that their relationship is registered in US court files as confessed by Zarrab himself, might have led Erdoğan to weigh the prospects for the case to be brought up again, which might have ended in friction and the resulting resignation,” Şener went on to say.
Şener also claimed that Uysal’s removal from the central bank has to do with the Halkbank case. “The connection that might harm Erdoğan must be the fact that Uysal was Halkbank’s deputy director general and that he is directly tied to the case in the US,” he said.
Albayrak’s family openly supported Trump’s re-election
Berat Albayrak’s brother Serhat Albayrak leads Turkey’s largest media corporation, Turkuvaz Medya. During the US presidential election, outlets owned by the group openly supported Trump.