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Money laundering probe: Hundreds arrested in Turkey

Turkey has initiated raids across several cities in an investigation into one of the biggest money laundering attempts in the country’s history which involves Iranians.

On Tuesday, Turkish prosecutors ordered the detention of some 417 suspects who allegedly transferred about 2.5 billion Turkish liras’ ($419 million) worth of foreign currency to foreign bank accounts.

The majority of the funds’ recipients were Iranian citizens residing in the US, according to a statement from Istanbul’s chief prosecutor.

Tehran has not yet given any reaction on the financial probe.

Facing a serious currency crisis, with lira falling about 40 percent against the dollar in 2018, Turkey is nowadays attaching great importance to the issue of foreign money transfers.

Those who transferred the money starting on Jan. 1, 2017, with sums of 5,000 liras and more, are accused of targeting the economic and financial security of Turkey and financing terrorism. Another charge made is receiving commission for sending the money to 28,088 foreign accounts.

So far, about 216 suspects have been detained in operations across 40 cities.

In a speech made in April, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan also warned against sending money abroad for purposes other than investment and developing business, trade and investments.

A US court recently sentenced Mehmet Hakan Atilla, a Turkish banker at the state-controlled Halkbank, to 32 months in prison after he was convicted of involvement in a scheme to help Iran evade US sanctions.

“This operation is not aimed at foreign exchange transfers of residents in Turkey to accounts abroad,” Turkish presidential adviser Cemil Ertem tweeted after the operation. “It is against terror financing related to the foreign exchange being transferred for terror group members who are residing abroad,”

According to Gulriz Sen, an Iranian expert from TOBB University of Economics and Technology in Ankara, the latest incident in Turkey seems related to recent economic developments inside Iran, which also started a crackdown by sentencing three men to death and imprisoning more than 30 others for financial crimes.

“Both Turkey and Iran have seen their currencies plummeting in the past few months,” Sen told Arab News. “In Iran’s case, President Donald Trump’s decision to pull the US out of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action and the uncertainties regarding the future of Western investments in Iran, as well as Iran’s ability to export its oil without market disruption, played a major role.

“Furthermore, Iranian authorities arrested the former deputy head of Iran’s Central Bank responsible for foreign exchange affairs and questioned former Central Bank Governor Valiollah Seif, who was put under US sanctions in July and later dismissed by President Rouhani at the height of the currency crisis.”

Sen believes that Turkey’s move may be in coordination with Iran. “On the latest occasion, money transfers ending up in Iranian accounts based in the US bring to mind the perennial problem of financial transactions between Iran and the US due to US sanctions. Turkey may have served as a medium to circumvent these difficulties,” she underlined.
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