Reza Zarrab, a Turkish gold trader of Iranian origin who was arrested last March in Miami on charges of violating US sanctions against Iran, on Tuesday asked a federal judge to recuse himself, citing reports that the judge had attended a seminar in Turkey in 2014 allegedly organized by a law office linked to the Gülen movement, inspired by US-based Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen.
Lawyers for Zarrab filed the motion a week before the judge whose recusal they are seeking, 72-year-old US District Court, Southern District of New York Judge Richard Berman, was set to hear arguments over whether to dismiss the indictment against Zarrab. Zarrab’s defense asked Judge Berman to recuse himself due to his participation in a UN-sponsored conference in İstanbul in 2014 that was organized by the Yüksel Karkin Law Office, allegedly linked with Gülen.
Zarrab was arrested in Turkey in 2013 for bribing Turkish officials as part of an investigation implicating members of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government and people close to then-Prime Minister and present-President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. He was released after the charges were dropped. The Turkish prosecutor and the police officers responsible for the investigation were either suspended or arrested after the AKP government claimed that the corruption investigation was an attempt by Gülen sympathizers in the state bureaucracy to overthrow the government.
According to New York-based Turkish journalist İlhan Tanır, Zarrab’s defense believes that Judge Berman may be sympathetic towards Gülen after he participated in the UN conference in İstanbul two years ago and that he cannot be impartial.
Zarrab’s lawyers added that the conference was sponsored by the Karkın law firm at which several lawyers were charged with links to Gülen after a July coup attempt in Turkey, which has led to purges of the military, civil service, judiciary and academia.
“72 year old federal Judge Berman now accused of being Gulenist bc he participated a conference in Istanbul. NOT a joke,“ Tanır wrote on his Twitter account on Tuesday.
US Attorney for the Southern District of New York Preet Bharara ordered Zarrab’s arrest in March of this year and charged him and two others with engaging in hundreds of millions of dollars in transactions on behalf of the Iranian government and Iranian entities from 2010 to 2015 in a scheme to evade US sanctions.
In June Judge Berman rejected Zarrab’s request for release on $50 million bail and to be detained at a luxury apartment in Manhattan.
Zarrab has spent tens of millions of dollars and created a dream team of lawyers, including criminal defense attorney Benjamin Brafman.
After several prosecutors were removed from the case, police investigators were reassigned and the investigation was dropped against Zarrab in 2014, Berman commented on the Turkish probe, calling it “inappropriate to change the rules of the game while the game is taking place.” According to Zarrab’s lawyers Berman’s court had already formulated opinions prior to this case, having a bearing on Mr. Zarrab’s purported criminality and his relationship with officials in the Turkish government.