Turkey’s Justice Minister Bekir Bozdağ, who recently met with his counterpart, Loretta Lynch, in Washington and told her that the prosecution of Turkish-Iranian gold-trader Reza Zarrab, arrested in Miami in March over violations of US sanctions on Iran, was ‘based on no evidence’ and that he must be released, according to a court filing released on Tuesday.
The filing released by the office of US Attorney for the Southern District of New York Preet Bharara said that Bozdağ also asked that Zarrab be released from US custody and returned to Turkey.
Bharara also said the Turkish government has made recent attempts to interfere with the prosecution of Zarrab.
The disclosure came after Zarrab’s lawyers sought the judge’s permission to give Bozdağ a copy of a 2014 search warrant application that allowed the US government to search Zarrab’s emails. His lawyers claimed the warrant application was based on a “widely discredited” document that purported to be a Turkish law enforcement report, whose authenticity could be verified or denied by Bozdağ.
The judge on Tuesday denied the motion.
During a meeting on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly on Sept. 25, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan accused US prosecutors of taking aim at him in the case against Zarrab for violating sanctions against Iran.
Erdoğan and pro-government circles have been claiming for a while that US Attorney Bharara, who indicted Zarrab, has links to the Gülen movement, which they accuse of plotting a failed coup on July 15 in Turkey.
Responding to these allegations, Bharara said in a statement last month that he had just learned Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen’s name from Google and that he has never been to Turkey. Gülen, who lives in the US in self-imposed exile, is a Turkish scholar who inspired the Gülen movement with his teachings.
Zarrab, who was arrested in March as part of an investigation overseen by US Attorney Bharara on charges of violating US sanctions against Iran, 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 current President 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, which claimed that the corruption investigation was an attempt by Gülen sympathizers in the state bureaucracy to overthrow the government.
In June of this year, US Federal Judge Richard Berman, who is hearing the case, rejected a request for Zarrab’s release on $50 million bail and detention in 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.
The Turkish government and pro-government media displayed Bozdağ’s meeting with US Attorney General Lynch as a meeting in which he presented new evidence to US authorities for Gülen’s extradition. However, reports in critical media and Bharara’s court filing show that Zarrab’s release was also on Bozdağ’s agenda.
What disturbed Erdoğan and other Turkish officials is that Bharara’s office cited the 2013 corruption investigation into Erdoğan and other Cabinet members in the Zarrab indictment in New York.
As part of government-orchestrated purges against sympathizers of the Gülen movement in the state bureaucracy following the corruption investigations of 2013 and failed coup in July, Turkish prosecutors have charged Gülen and thousands of his sympathizers in the police force, judiciary and military of fabricating the corruption allegations and masterminding the coup attempt.
Gülen denies Turkey’s charges and has said he believes the US would not compel his return.