Iranian Gold Trader, Zarrab, Set To Implicate Top Turkish Govt Officials In US Court

0
46

The controversial Iranian gold trader, Reza Zarrab, 34, who was

arrested in Miami in March 2016 for allegedly conspiring to evade US

sanctions against Iran is set to testify in US court against high

profile Turkish Government officials.

Zerrab was accused of engaging in hundreds of millions of dollars

worth of transactions on behalf of the government of Tehran,

money-laundering and bank fraud, and faces up to 95 years in prison.

Zarrab had last week pleaded guilty and was now the US government’s

star witness. He is set to testify against Turkish banker Mehmet Hakan

Atilla on a series of international corruption allegations that

reached the highest levels of the Turkish government.

Things started going awry for Zarrab in 2013 when he was detained by

Turkish authorities in a wide-ranging corruption investigation, along

with the sons of two cabinet ministers.

Prosecutors accused Zarrab of involvement in facilitating Iranian

money transfers via gold-smuggling, setting up bogus companies to buy

oil and gas from Iran in exchange for gold and bribing senior

ministers to cover it up.

The alleged “gifts” were said to include a $350,000 watch, a $37,000

piano and millions of dollars in cash – some of which was reportedly

transferred in shoeboxes to politicians or bureaucrats involved in the

scheme.

In one incident, a Turkish government minister is claimed to have

received $500,000 in cash from Zarrab, which was delivered in a

chocolate box, along with a silver plate.

The allegations erupted when audio recordings of conversations between

Mr Zarrab and several politicians were leaked online.

Mr Zarrab denied all the bribery accusations at the time and claimed

his trading business worked within the law.

Three cabinet ministers resigned as their sons were implicated in

these recordings, and a fourth was dismissed from his post.

President Erdogan, who was then the prime minister, claimed the

recordings were manipulated, condemned the investigation and called it

“a judicial coup” orchestrated by the Islamist cleric Fethullah Gulen,

a former ally of his government, who is currently in self-imposed

exile in the US.

 

Soon the prosecutors were removed from the case, police investigators

were reassigned and the inquiry was dropped.

 

Zarrab was released after 70 days in detention, and was now being

described by Mr Erdogan as a philanthropist who had made huge

contributions to Turkish society.

 

Zarrab boasted in a later interview that he had helped reduce

Turkey’s current account deficit and received an award in a ceremony

attended by President Erdogan.

But the Zarrab saga took another turn when he decided to go to Disney

World with his wife and daughter in March 2016.

It is still not clear why Zarrab went to the US. Some speculate that

he must have known he could have been detained but took the risk

anyway, since he feared his life would be at stake if he stayed in

Turkey; others that he wanted to avoid possible extradition to Iran.

In November, speculation grew as to the whereabouts of Zarrab, as US

media reports suggested he had been removed from a federal prison and

was now co-operating with prosecutors to strike a plea bargain.

An NBC report also suggested that special counsel Robert Mueller was

investigating whether the Turkish government had offered former US

National Security Advisor Michael Flynn a sum of over $15m to ensure

that Mr Zarrab’s case was dropped, and to work towards the abduction

of Fethullah Gulen, whom the government claims masterminded the 2016

failed coup plot in Turkey.

These allegations were denied by Mr Flynn’s lawyers. However earlier

this year, Mr Flynn acknowledged he worked as a foreign agent

representing the interests of the Turkish government, having been paid

more than $500,000 to this end.

When Mr Zarrab was first arrested in the US, President Erdogan said

this case was of no interest to Turkey.

But since then he has allegedly lobbied for Mr Zarrab’s release in

talks in the US, called the prosecutors “secret agents of Fethullah

Gulen” and described the investigation as a plot against Turkey.

 

Turkish authorities have also opened an investigation into the US

prosecutors behind the case, claiming that the alleged evidence was

based on fabricated documents.

 

Many in Turkey believe the government fears Mr Zarrab’s testimony in a

Manhattan court could bring further embarrassment to top officials in

Ankara.

Will Mr Zarrab appear before the court? Will he testify against

Turkish officials? Will he confirm the alleged bank frauds? Will his

testimony lead to further indictments on others? What will come out at

the trial? How damaging will that be for future US-Turkey relations

was leading a lavish life, with two villas on the shores of the

Bosphorus worth around $40m (£30m) and gifts of million-dollar

paintings for his pop-star wife.

Zerrab’s holdings were said to include a private jet, around 20

properties, as well as luxurious cars and boats.

He was often seen posing for cameras with figures such as President

Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s wife Emine, to whose charity he is alleged to

have donated over $4m.