In a surprising decision, Turkish courts have returned the $4.5 million in cash that authorities found in shoe boxes during a Dec. 17 raid on the home of the former head of Turkey's state-owned Halkbank, Suleyman Aslan.
Police have connected the returned cash to a larger corruption scandal that has rocked Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan's Islamic Justice and Development Party (AKP).
Aslan was the key player in the "gas-for-gold" scheme in which Tehran bought gold with Turkish lira and, in exchange, supplied Turkey with Iranian natural gas and oil. Western sanctions over Iran's nuclear program prevented Iran from getting paid in euros or dollars, so Halkbank used the precious metal to get around the restrictions. Aslan was detained in December and later released in February.
Between March 2012 and July 2013, Turkey was able to export approximately $13 billion worth of gold to Tehran, according to Mark Dubowitz of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.
"It was puzzling that Ankara allowed this to continue: The Turks -- NATO allies who have assured Washington that they oppose Iran's military-nuclear program -- brazenly conducted these massive gold transactions even after the Obama administration tightened sanctions on Iran's precious metals trade in July 2012," Dubowitz wrote in Foreign Policy.