Turkish gold trader Reza Zarrab delivered bombshell testimony Tuesday in a massive case involving U.S. sanctions violations. Zarrab admitted that he was immersed in a world of bribery and deceit, inhabited by high-profile political figures. Turkish President Recep Erdogan is among those implicated. Zarrab claimed that he paid more than $60 million in bribes to a single Turkish official.
Zarrab and his attorneys also attempted to achieve a “political resolution” by convincing former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani to stand behind them. The scale of Zarrab’s crimes is enormous.
“Zarrab allegedly shipped gold to Iran in exchange for oil and natural gas, the ‘gas for gold’ scheme; this gold helped Iran prop up its ailing currency,” the Lawfare Institute writes.
“Prosecutors allege Halk Bank, owned by the Turkish state, facilitated the transfers by disguising the nature of the transactions and labeling them as permissible commerce. The bank’s deputy chief executive officer, Mehmet Hakan Atilla, was arrested in New York in Mar. 2017 and charged with helping Zarrab conspire to evade sanctions on Iran.”
The trial is being held for Atilla; Zarrab is the government’s star witness. The case has huge implications for the future of U.S.-Turkish relations.
“The case is political, lacks any legal basis and is a conspiracy against Turkey,” Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag said.
President Erdogan has spent a lot of time and effort trying to convince the U.S. to drop the charges against Zarrab and Atilla. Their trials don’t reflect well upon Turkey.
Zarrab told the courtroom that while imprisoned in New York he bribed a federal prison guard, sending more than $45,000 in exchange for alcohol and use of a cell phone. At no point did he express remorse for his crimes.
“In fact, you hired Rudy Giuliani and former Attorney General Michael Mukasey as your attorneys in the United States to try to work out a solution for you in Turkey, correct?” the prosecutor asked Zarrab.
“That is correct, ma’am,” Zarrab said.
“In fact, you are furious with people in Turkey that it did not work, isn’t that true?”
“I don’t have any anger towards anybody, ma’am,” Zarrab replied.
The case has received less attention from the media than it normally would. Most American journalists are preoccupied with the turbid political climate affecting Washington. Still, it’s an important case.
“It is now understood that the U.S.A. has a plan against us,” Erdogan raged.
“It is obvious that this trial is brought up as a tool to blackmail us to give up our claims in the region… This trial is also a piece of the big fight, the big strife in American domestic politics… American media covers this trial alongside with the ‘Russia, Flynn, Trump’ headline… Yes, there is conspiracy — but against Turkey.”
If Erdogan’s anger can’t be quelled, it could have devastating consequences for the future. The alliance between Washington and Ankara has been severely tested in recent years. Zarrab and Atilla, however, are both guilty. Matters have gone too far for them to escape being punished for what they did.
“Erdogan’s campaign to free Zarrab has been extraordinary. He demanded his release as well as the firing of Bharara in a private meeting with then-Vice President Joe Biden on Sept. 21, 2016, in which U.S. officials say half the 90-minute conversation was devoted to Zarrab. Erdogan’s wife pleaded the case that night to Jill Biden,” the Washington Post reports.
“Turkey’s then-justice minister, Bekir Bozdag, visited then-Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch in October to argue that the case was ‘based on no evidence’ and that Zarrab should be released.”
Zarrab told the court he earned up to $150 million in commissions.