A top Turkish banker convicted in the US of helping Iran evade US sanctions said he found out his passport had been cancelled by Turkish authorities on the day in March 2021 that he resigned as head of the Borsa İstanbul stock exchange.
Mehmet Hakan Atilla, who served as deputy director general of international banking for Turkish lender Halkbank and was convicted in 2018 of plotting to help Iran evade US sanctions in a multi-billion dollar gold-for-oil scheme, announced on Instagram on Monday that that his passport was seized at İstanbul Airport as he was preparing to fly to the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (KKTC) with his family.
Atilla said he was told at the police station that a travel ban had been imposed on him by the interior ministry, which he said came as a surprise because he wasn’t under investigation as far as he knew and was not standing trial.
In an Instagram post on Tuesday, Atilla said he found out that his passport had actually been revoked on March 5, 2021 when he decided to resign from Borsa İstanbul as its chairman.
Atilla said he wants to know who made this decision and why.
The banker was released from prison in the US in 2019 after spending 28 months behind bars and returned to Turkey, where he was welcomed as a hero by the administration of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Erdoğan dismissed the allegations against him, insisting the case against Atilla was “politically motivated.”
He was named head of the Borsa İstanbul in October 2019. However, he resigned in March 2021, prior to an approaching New York trial of Halkbank.
When asked by the Halk TV news website whether he thinks it was Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu who ordered the revocation of his passport, Atilla said Soylu has no connection to him or Borsa İstanbul and that even if Soylu was behind the decision, he must have been acting under orders.
The banker complained on Monday that as a person who had served and defended his country for years, it was a pity he was being given such treatment at an airport.
“The biter gets bit,” said Atilla.
In an interview with the T24 news website in January, Atilla said some people in the state tried to use his wife and children as leverage when he was jailed in the US so that he would stick to the government narrative on the Halkbank case.
A US federal court is expected to hear a case against Halkbank after charging it with six counts of fraud, money laundering and sanctions offenses in 2019.
Halkbank faces a substantial fine for facilitating transactions that helped Iranian officials circumvent US sanctions in 2012 and 2013 for the nation’s nuclear program.
Relations between the two NATO allies remain strained over the Halkbank dispute, Syria and other international issues.