Turkish-Iranian gold trader Reza Zarrab, a key prosecution witness in the New York trial of a Turkish banker charged with violating US sanctions on Iran, on Thursday said he resumed violating sanctions upon the order of then-Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, according to İhan Tanır, a Turkish journalist following the case in New York.
Zarrab has confirmed the existence of text messages to his lawyers in Turkey saying that he had restarted violating US sanctions on Iran in June 2014 at the order of Erdoğan and his son-in-law and current Energy Minister Berat Albayrak after he was released from a Turkish prison on Feb. 28, 2014, Tanır reported.
Zarrab and eight other people, including Turkey’s former economy minister and three Halkbank executives, have been charged with engaging in transactions worth hundreds of millions of dollars for Iran’s government and Iranian entities from 2010 to 2015 in a scheme to evade US sanctions.
The gold trader had been held in a New York prison awaiting trial but said today he was removed after a fellow inmate pulled a knife and tried to kill him for cooperating with prosecutors, part of a plea deal agreed by Zarrab part to lessen his prison sentence.
Zarrab was the prime suspect in a major corruption investigation in Turkey that became public in December 2013 and implicated the inner circle of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) government and then-Prime Minister Erdoğan. Zarrab was alleged to have 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 in Turkey.
The Turkish-Iranian gold trader on Monday told the New York court that he made payments to secure his release in February 2014 and that those payments were partly bribes.
Zarrab, who was arrested in the US in March 2016, testified in federal court last week that he had bribed Turkey’s former economy minister, Zafer Çağlayan, in a billion-dollar scheme to smuggle gold for oil in violation of US sanctions on Iran.
Zarrab said that Erdoğan personally authorized the involvement of Turkish banks in the scheme to evade US sanctions on Iran.
Zarrab also said for the first time that Turkey’s Ziraat Bank and VakıfBank were involved in the scheme and that former Deputy Prime Minister Ali Babacan signed off with Erdoğan on the operation.
While Zarrab revealed his tactics and accomplices within the Turkish government in violating US sanctions on Iran in New York federal court, President Erdoğan said on Tuesday that the case was an international coup attempt against Turkey.