United States (US) Attorney Preet Bharara has submitted additional documents of hundreds of pages to the New York court pertaining to Iranian-Turkish billionaire Reza Zarrab, who is known for being at the center of Turkey’s 2013 corruption scandal, making it almost impossible for him to be released on bail.
Zarrab, who was arrested in March by US authorities while in Miami, is accused of bank fraud, money laundering and evading US sanctions on Iran. Bharara, the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, is seeking up to 75 years in prison against the gold trader. Zarrab’s alleged partner Babak Zanjani was recently sentenced to death in Iran for embezzlement.
In Turkey, Zarrab was at the center of the Dec. 17, 2013 corruption scandal that shook the Turkish government to its core and led to the resignation of four ministers. He was accused of bribing Turkish Cabinet ministers in exchange of favorable financial dealings as part of a scheme to evade US-led Iranian sanctions. The twin graft investigations targeted President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his inner circle. Erdoğan had described Zarrab as a “philanthropist” following allegations that he generously bribed ministers in turn for favors ranging from getting a Turkish citizenship and evading customs for controversial shipments.
Among the latest series of documents submitted to the court by Bharara was Zarrab’s What’s App conversations as proof that he can speak English and Persian. Bharara objected to Zarrab’s request of release on bail in light of this evidence, only a few days ahead of the hearing on the request.
Zarrab’s lawyer Benjamin Brafman had earlier claimed that his client has poor English, hence, he wasn’t able to accurately understand the questions in his first interrogation by the FBI after his arrest. Brafman had asserted that the FBI didn’t provide a translator for Zarrab, continued interrogating him even though he asked for a lawyer.
According to the indictment, Zarrab had penned an email about carrying out a “financial jihad” with references to Ayatollah Khomeini, the leader of 1979 Iranian revolution. Brafman had claimed his lawyer couldn’t speak Persian, denying that he wrote the email.
Brafman’s evidence to support his claim Zarrab couldn’t speak English well was his 8th grade report card from a Turkish school, which showed his grade was 3 in English, while it was 2 in Turkish, on a scale of 1 to 5.
Zarrab’s What’s App texting also revealed his trip to Dubai with Turkish celebrity TV producer Acun Ilıcalı. Zarrab dispatches his own private jet to Ilıcalı and his friends on their way back from Dubai, after Ilıcalı’s jet breaks down, according to revealed data. Zarrab was also texting in English with an individual, who was saved with the code name “Adem Turkey.”
Other details within his What’s App texts showed Zarrab’s further assets that he avoided listing in the FBI investigation such as his private yacht and his private jet, as well as revealing his plans on purchasing another yacht.
Zarrab was among 21 people — including the sons of three then-ministers, a district mayor, a director of a state-owned bank and other high-profile figures — who were arrested as part of the corruption and bribery operation that went public on Dec. 17, 2013 in a series of simultaneous police raids.
Zarrab and all the other suspects were released and the charges were dropped after a government move that dismissed the prosecutors who oversaw the investigation, after then-Prime Minister Erdoğan called the investigation a “coup attempt.” In addition, thousands of prosecutors, judges and police chiefs were reassigned, dismissed or imprisoned for taking part in the corruption investigation.
Two weeks ago, Zarrab’s attorney Brafman said his jailed client donated a total amount of $4,6 million to a non-profit group called Togem-Der (Social Development Center of Education and Social Solidarity Association), which was founded by Erdoğan’s wife, First Lady Emine Erdoğan.
The first lady’s foundation immediately closed down its website, after it became public that Zarrab wasn’t listed as a donor in the Togem-Der’s website where Erdoğan’s two daughters and dozens of business tycoons across Turkey are named on the list.