‘World is doomed’: Erdogan denounces U.S. justice after Turkish banker trial

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan speaks during a ceremony in Ankara, Turkey, December 21, 2017. Kayhan

ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Tayyip Erdogan denounced U.S. justice on Friday and suggested Turkey could rethink some bilateral agreements with Washington, after a U.S. court convicted a Turkish banker in a trial that included testimony of corruption by top Turkish officials.

In his first public comments on Wednesday’s verdict, the Turkish president cast the case as American plot to undermine Turkey’s government and economy – an argument likely to resonate with nationalist supporters.

“If this is the U.S. understanding of justice, then the world is doomed,” Erdogan told a news conference before his departure to France for an official visit.

A U.S. jury convicted an executive of Turkey’s majority state-owned Halkbank  of evading Iran sanctions, at the close of the trial which has strained relations between the NATO allies. Some of the court testimony implicated senior Turkish officials, including Erdogan. Ankara has said the case was based on fabricated evidence.

Without being specific, Erdogan said the case put agreements between the two countries into jeopardy: “….The bilateral accords between us are losing their validity. I am saddened to say this, but this is how it will be from now on.”

Turkey’s foreign ministry on Thursday condemned the conviction as unprecedented meddling in its internal affairs. The row has unnerved investors and weighed on the lira currency, which hit a series of record lows last year.

The court case has put pressure on relations between Washington and the biggest Muslim country in NATO, already strained since a 2016 failed coup in Turkey which Erdogan blames on followers of a cleric who lives in the United States.

Only last week the United States and Turkey lifted all visa restrictions against each other, ending a months-long visa dispute that began when Washington suspended visa services at its Turkish missions after two local employees of the U.S. consulate were detained on suspicion of links to the coup.

The Halkbank executive, Mehmet Hakan Atilla, was convicted on five of six counts, including bank fraud and conspiracy to violate U.S. sanctions law. The case was based on the testimony of a wealthy Turkish-Iranian gold trader, Reza Zarrab, who cooperated with prosecutors and pleaded guilty to charges of leading a scheme to evade U.S. sanctions against Iran.

In his testimony Zarrab implicated top Turkish politicians, including Erdogan. Zarrab said Erdogan, then prime minister, had personally authorised two Turkish banks to join the scheme.

Turkey says the case was based on fabricated evidence and has accused U.S. court officials of ties to the cleric Turkey blames for the coup attempt. The bank has denied any wrongdoing and said its transactions were in line with local and international regulations.

“The United States is carrying out … a chain of plots, and these are not just legal but also economic plots,” Erdogan said.

(Reporting by Daren Butler and Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by David Dolan and Peter Graff)

Argentine survivor of New York attack pleads for justice, love

The flag hangs at half mast at the Argentine Consulate, in honour of the five Argentine citizens who were killed in the truck attack in New York on October 31, in New York City, U.S., November 2, 2017.

(Reuters) – “What has the world turned in to?” a friend of the five Argentines killed in the New York attack this week asked at a news conference on Friday, alongside three other surviving members of a group of former classmates.

Guillermo Banchini, an architect, and friends were cycling in New York during a 30-year high school reunion trip on Tuesday when a driver of a pickup truck plowed down a bike path.

“How could someone think of, plan and do something like this? We cannot get our heads around it,” Banchini said at the Argentine consulate in New York.

“Let there be justice. Let this not be repeated, not here nor anywhere in the world.”

Eight people, including a Belgian woman, a New Yorker and a New Jersey man, were killed and 11 injured in lower Manhattan in the attack along the Hudson River.

The suspect, 29-year-old Uzbek immigrant Sayfullo Saipov, was charged with acting on behalf of Islamic State, whose followers have carried out vehicle attacks in several cities, mostly in Europe.

The five deceased Argentines, businessmen and architects aged 48 to 49, were all alums of a polytechnic high school in Rosario, Argentina’s third-largest city.

Another member of the group, Martin Ludovico Marro, was injured and hospitalized in Manhattan and did not attend the televised news conference.

Banchini, speaking on behalf of the other Argentine survivors, said the pain they were feeling would always endure, but they would move forward the way they had learned as close knit childhood friends.

“In the name of those values, and a way of life, we want to make a bet – love conquers hate,” he said.

 

(Reporting by Maximilian Heath and Caroline Stauffer; Editing by Andrew Hay)

 

Syria investigator del Ponte signs off with a sting

Carla del Ponte, member of the Independent Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic attends a news conference into events in Aleppo at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, March 1, 2017.

GENEVA (Reuters) – Veteran prosecutor Carla del Ponte signed off from the United Nations Syria investigation on Monday by criticizing the U.N. Security Council and telling Syria’s ambassador his government had used chemical weapons.

The former Swiss attorney general, who went on to prosecute war crimes in Rwanda and former Yugoslavia, said in August she was resigning from the U.N. Commission of Inquiry on Syria because of a lack of political backing.

Bidding farewell to the U.N. Human Rights Council, which set up the Commission of Inquiry six years ago, Del Ponte said she had quit out of frustration.

“We could not obtain from the international community and the Security Council a resolution putting in place a tribunal, an ad hoc tribunal for all the crimes that are committed in Syria,” she said.

“Seven years of crime in Syria and total impunity. That is not acceptable.”

Del Ponte told a Swiss newspaper last month enough evidence existed to convict President Bashar al-Assad of war crimes.

Her departure leaves only two remaining commissioners of the inquiry, Karen Koning AbuZayd and the chairman, Paulo Pinheiro, who said that eventually, a great many people would have to answer “as to why they did not act sooner to stop the carnage”.

“The deadlock at the Security Council on Syria is reprehensible and, at times, bewildering,” he told the Human Rights Council.

Leaving the council, del Ponte told Syria’s ambassador that she had been right to quickly reach the conclusion that Assad’s government had used chemical weapons during an attack on the town of Khan Sheikhoun in April.

“It was me, mister ambassador,” she said.

“I said that in my opinion and based on the elements we already had, the Syrian government was responsible. Today we have the confirmation after an official commission’s inquiry. So now, we ask for justice, we ask justice for those victims.”

 

(Reporting by Tom Miles and Cecile Mantovani; editing by Andrew Roche)

 

North Korea Criticizes Canada Over Reaction to Pastor’s Life Sentence

North Korea is accusing Canadian government officials of “spouting rubbish” about the trial of Hyeon Soo Lim, the Canadian pastor who North Korea recently sentenced to a life of hard labor.

KCNA, North Korea’s state-run media agency, reported Tuesday that a spokesman for the country’s foreign ministry blasted Canada for its response to Lim’s sentence, handed down last week. The Toronto Star previously reported Canada’s government felt the punishment was “unduly harsh,” and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told said it sparked “tremendous concern.”

The spokesman told KCNA it was “very shocking” that Canada’s government reacted the way that it did, rather than “feeling guilty about the hideous crime,” that Lim allegedly committed.

The governments of both the United States and Canada actively warn citizens against traveling to North Korea, in large part because the North’s legal system isn’t known for consistently applying its strict laws. The U.S. Department of State warns that things that might not seem criminal — like bringing photographs into the country — can lead to people being detained, arrested or sentenced to hard labor or death. Unsanctioned religious activity is also illegal there.

KCNA reported that Lim was accused of subversion, committing anti-North Korean religious activities and spreading false propaganda about the country overseas, among other charges.

However, Lim’s family members have told CNN that the South Korean-born pastor of the Light Korean Presbyterian Church in Toronto, who is in his 60s, frequently went to North Korea over the past 18 years for a variety of humanitarian causes and his trips were not political in nature.

While KCNA reported the pastor confessed to all of the crimes, The Toronto Star reported other foreigners held in North Korea have said they were pressured into confessing. The paper quoted Trudeau as saying “issues about North Korea’s governance and judicial system are well-known.”

North Korea’s foreign ministry spokesman told KCNA that Canada’s stance on Lim’s sentence would only further complicate the situation. The spokesman said that Canada “has no legal justifications” to find fault with any of North Korea’s actions, and Canada should have apologized and taken steps to prevent future crimes rather than shifting blame to North Korea.

The war of words in the press comes two days after Reuters reported that North Korea allowed Canadian diplomats to meet with the pastor in prison last week. Relaying the information she received about the visit, a church spokeswoman on Sunday told the news agency that the pastor’s spirits remained high and that he had been given medicine to treat his health condition.