This week, infamous gold-smuggler Reza Zarrab became a witness in a case concerning the wholesale violations of sanctions against Iran imposed by the U.S. and the United Nations. Zarrab is now testifying in open court, and he has just revealed allegations that amount to a major bombshell: The President of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, personally ordered those violations. That’s not just news that will roil Turkish and international politics; it’s news that could put the Trump administration in a serious bind.
- A quick recap of how this worked: Here’s the scheme, in miniature, as overseen by Zarrab and that first came to light in 2013. First, Iranian interests transfer money they’ve collected from selling oil or sell oil and gas directly through front companies, via Halkbank, a state-owned Turkish bank. Those front companies buy gold with the cash. That gold was then shipped to Iran, via Dubai, and used as an asset elsewhere in the world.
- The Turkish government, and Erdoğan’s party (the Justice and Development Party, or AKP) was heavily involved: Everyone arrested in the corruption scandal had some tie to the AKP, and two of Erdoğan’s sons were among those arrested. Clearly, this was embarrassing, because at best, this meant one of Turkey’s top government officials was completely blind to a massive crime ring literally being run out of his offices, but Turkey, as a democratic country, would deal with it, right?
- Erdoğan quashed the investigation: Amid enormous international blowback, the AKP quashed the entire investigation and starting firing people who had the power to investigate Erdoğan. They even gave back the money that had been repossessed, with interest. Erdoğan insisted, repeatedly, that this was just an attempt to frame him by his political rivals. Nobody genuinely believed this, but as this whole matter was within the confines of the Turkish legal system, there simply wasn’t much anybody could do.
So why is this bad news for Trump? There’s a whole host of reasons. Essentially, a massive geopolitical bomb has been dropped in his lap, and his administration has to defuse it.
- First of all: Erdoğan is (theoretically, at least) the democratically elected leader of a sovereign state, who deliberately violated sanctions imposed by the United States. We can’t just send a few FBI agents over there and drag him back to testify: That would violate Turkey’s sovereign status. But at the same time, the U.S. can’t allow this to go unchallenged, especially as NATO and the United Nations aren’t going to let this slide either, and yet Turkey is also a key military ally in the area. This is a tricky question that turmoil at the State Department is just going to make worse.
- Secondly, it involves Iran: Trump has loudly and publicly bellowed about his dislike of the Iranian regime, so in theory that would mean he would be all in on acting against Turkey.
- Except Erdoğan and Trump enjoy warm relations: Trump has praised him to the point of siding with him over the protestors Erdoğan had his bodyguards beat up, in fact, although the Pentagon has not let this friendship get in the way of strategic matters.
- And then there’s the Flynn factor: Michael Flynn is in trouble for, among other things, agreeing to accept millions to capture and deport a key political rival of the AKP, who currently lives in exile in Pennsylvania. Trump, remember, allegedly pressured former FBI director James Comey to drop an investigation into Flynn. Even if that’s entirely due to Trump “standing by his friends” as some in his inner circle claim, it raises questions about what Trump might have been aware of.
In other words, it is an extremely delicate situation, made more delicate by the fact that even the lightest misstep will be widely and loudly condemned, both here and abroad, and if any Trump business connections turn up. Some have asked what will happen when the Trump administration faces a true crisis. If this is mishandled, this might become that crisis.
(via The Daily Beast)