US Assistant District Attorney Michael Dennis Lockard said in pretrial proceedings on Monday that Turkish-Iranian national Reza Zarrab is charged with a “serious national security offense” despite efforts by Zarrab’s new attorneys, former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and former US Attorney General Michael Mukasey, to minimize his involvement in a conspiracy to allow the government of Iran to access US financial institutions.
Lockard said Zarrab’s “politically connected lawyers” were using inaccuracies to “whitewash” the charges against the prominent Turkish businessman while trying “to get Turkey’s president and U.S. officials to resolve the case diplomatically,” The Associated Press reported on Monday.
Affidavits filed by Giuliani and Mukasey to explain their roles in the case mischaracterized the alleged crimes as not serious or harmful to the United States because none of the transactions involved weapons, nuclear technology or other contraband, according to the US assistant district attorney.
Giuliani had previously said both US and Turkish officials were “receptive” to a diplomatic solution due to the nature of the charges against Reza Zarrab and the perceived importance of Turkey as a geopolitical ally.
“That receptiveness is hardly surprising when one considers that none of the transactions in which Mr. Zarrab is alleged to have participated involved weapons or nuclear technology, or any other contraband, but rather involved consumer goods, and that Turkey is situated in a part of the world strategically critical to the United States,” Giuliani said earlier this month.
“The entities that benefitted from this alleged scheme include the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and agents or affiliates of that entity, Iranian banks that have been sanctioned for their role in providing financing for Iran’s nuclear programs, and Iranian commercial airlines,” said Lockard, as quoted by the AP.
He said prosecutors would prove Zarrab and others worked with high-level government and banking officials in both Iran and Turkey after offering those services in a letter addressed to then-Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
“Zarrab funneled tens of millions of dollars to high-level government and bank officials to facilitate and protect this scheme,” said Lockard.
Zarrab was arrested by US authorities in Miami in March 2016 on charges of helping Iran process millions of dollars of transactions when it was under US sanctions for its nuclear program.
Turkey’s Halkbank Deputy General Manager Mehmet Hakan Atilla was also arrested in New York City in late March as part of an investigation into the violation of US sanctions on Iran. He is accused of conspiring with wealthy gold trader Zarrab to conduct hundreds of millions of dollars of illegal transactions through US banks on behalf of Iran’s government and other entities in that country.
Giuliani traveled to Turkey recently for a secret meeting with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to discuss the fate of Zarrab, according to a New York Times report, making clear that he is “trying to turn a criminal case into a matter of international diplomacy.”
The case has raised concerns at the highest levels of Turkish power, with Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu calling Atilla’s arrest “political” and President Erdoğan accusing US authorities of having “ulterior motives” in prosecuting Zarrab.
Zarrab was the prime suspect in a major corruption investigation in Turkey that became public in December 2013 in which with others from the inner circle of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) government and then-Prime Minister Erdoğan for having paid Cabinet-level officials and bank officers bribes to facilitate transactions benefiting Iran.
After 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.