Judge Richard Berman, senior federal judge of the US District Court for the Southern District of New York, cancelled a hearing for Turkish businessman of Iranian origin Reza Zarrab after US Attorney for the Southern District of New York Preet Bharara requested time to reply to a request made by Zarrab for Berman’s recusal.
Bharara must submit his response to the court by Sept. 14, and Zarrab’s defense is required to reply to Bharara no later than Sept. 21. Berman is expected to announce a new date for Zarrab’s hearing, which was scheduled for Sept. 6.
Zarrab, a Turkish-Iranian gold trader who was arrested last March in Miami on charges of violating US sanctions against Iran, on Tuesday asked Berman 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.
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.