“Halkbank's good management has played an effective role in Iranian-Turkish relations and, through cooperation with Iran, Halkbank has made a huge profit. I can certainly tell you that Halkbank is a true example of successful cooperation with Iran by one of Turkey's economic institutions,” said Bikdeli while speaking at a meeting at the Iranian Embassy in Ankara which Bikdeli hosted for members of the Diplomatic Correspondents Association on Nov. 29.
Turkish police detained 52 people, including Halkbank General Manager Süleyman Arslan, bureaucrats, well-known businesspeople and the sons of the three ministers -- Zafer Çağlayan, Muammer Güler and Erdoğan Bayraktar -- on Tuesday as part of a major investigation into alleged bribery linked to public tenders.
Reza Zarrab, an Iranian-Azeri businessman who is also among the detainees, is accused of involvement in irregular money transactions, mostly from Iran via Halkbank, that total some 87 billion euro, according to police sources. A criminal organization allegedly headed by Zarrab allegedly distributed to Turkish ministers and their sons a total of TL 137 million ($66 million) in bribes to hide the fictitious exports and money laundering in which the organization was engaged.
The Iranian ambassador's remarks came after Iran and Western powers reached an interim agreement on Nov. 24 that would the easing of sanctions on Iran in exchange for the country curbing its nuclear ambitions. His remarks were translated by an interpreter into Turkish for the benefit of the journalists in attendance.
Bikdeli also said that following the deal with Western powers, the risk of doing business with Iran would be reduced and other Turkish banks, alongside Halkbank, would reach out to Iran to conduct business. “But I have to tell you,” Bikdeli said, “No matter how good our relations are with other banks, Halkbank will always remain in its important position in Turkish-Iranian relations.”
Turkey was shaken this week by the bribery operation, which continues to make headlines in the country.
Bikdeli had said that Turkish Economy Minister Zafer Çağlayan would visit Iran from Jan. 15-16, hosted by his Iranian counterpart, to explore further avenues of trade and cooperation after the sanctions. However, it is not clear at this point whether the visit will go ahead as Çağlayan has been named in the corruption investigation.
Halkbank has been criticized by Western officials for engaging in an oil-for-gold exchange with Iran in order to skirt the international sanctions. It is believed that several tons of gold may have been traded with Iran for oil.