Report: Prosecutor says Turkish, Iranian officials cooperated with Zarrab to evade US sanctions

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Reza Zarrab (L), President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Mehmet Hakan Atilla (R).

The US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York reportedly said on Monday it will prove cooperation between high-level Turkish and Iranian officials and Turkish-Iranian gold trader Reza Zarrab to evade US sanctions, according to a story on the Washingtonhatti.com website.

Speaking during a hearing on Monday, Assistant US Attorney Michael Lockard, from the office’s Terrorism and International Narcotics Unit, surprised Zarrab’s new lawyers, Rudolph Giuliani, former mayor of New York City and close associate of US President Donald Trump, and attorney general under the George W. Bush administration Michael Mukasey, with an unexpected announcement that Zarrab had played a key role in helping Turkish and Iranian officials evade US sanctions on Iran, claimed Turkish journalist İlhan Tanır on Washingtonhatti.com.

Zarrab, who holds dual Turkish and Iranian citizenship, was arrested at the order of then-US Attorney for the Southern District of New York Preet Bharara when he arrived in Miami in March 2016.

According to the story by Tanır, Giuliani and Mukasey were reportedly bypassing the US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York in efforts to negotiate a deal for Zarrab. The two men have also traveled to Turkey to meet with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to discuss a potential resolution of the case, with the knowledge of current Attorney General Jeff Sessions, court filings indicate.

An April 24 report on the Bloomberg Politics website states that US District Judge Richard Berman, who will be hearing the case against Zarrab later this year, asked the new lawyers for updated information about what their firms have been doing on behalf of the Turkish government in the United States.

US Attorney Lockard stressed the gravity of the charges against Zarrab, saying Giuliani and Mukasey had downplayed their seriousness in court filings. The evidence would show that Zarrab personally offered his services to circumvent sanctions to Iran’s then-President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and paid tens of millions of dollars to high-level banking officials to help carry out the scheme, Lockard said, according to Bloomberg.

“What is charged in this case is a serious national-security offense, Lockard said.

Zarrab’s trial in the US has drawn much attention in Turkey as Zarrab was briefly detained in 2013 along with others from the inner circle of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) government and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan for having paid Cabinet-level officials and bank officers bribes to facilitate transactions benefiting Iran.

After then-Prime Minister and current President Erdoğan cast the case as a coup attempt to overthrow his government orchestrated by his political enemies, several prosecutors were removed from the case, police were reassigned and the investigation against Zarrab was dropped.

On March 28, Mehmet Hakan Atilla, a deputy chief executive officer of state-owned Türkiye Halk Bankası A.Ş., was arrested when he arrived at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City as part of an investigation into the violation of US sanctions on Iran.

Atilla’s arrest was made in connection with the pending prosecution of Zarrab as US authorities have said they have evidence that Zarrab paid millions of dollars in bribes to Turkish government officials and top executives at Halkbank to evade sanctions on Iran.

Acting US Attorney Joon Kim said in a letter to the court that at least eight banks that were allegedly swindled by Zarrab are current or former clients of Giuliani and Mukasey.

The former prosecutor of the Zarrab case, Bharara, was recently fired by the Trump administration.

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