New York Federal Judge Richard Berman, who oversaw the cases of Turkish bank executive Mehmet Atilla and gold trader Reza Zarrab for violating US sanctions on Iran, has ordered both men’s lawyers to disclose before sentencing all contacts with US and Turkish officials “relating to the prosecution and/or disposition” of the case including the purpose and outcome of such contact, Benjamin Weiser of The New York Times reported on Twitter.
Atilla, the 47-year-old former deputy chief executive officer of state lender Halkbank, was found guilty on Jan. 4 of violating US sanctions against Iran, committing crimes to deceive the US and defrauding US banks.
Atilla and Turkish-Iranian gold trader Zarrab and seven other people, including Turkey’s former economy minister and two additional Halkbank executives, were 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 order that the lawyers for Atilla and Zarrab explain all contacts with US and Turkish officials would appear to cover former New York City mayor Rudolph Giuliani’s efforts to negotiate a diplomatic resolution for Zarrab, including meetings with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and senior Trump administration officials, Weiser tweeted.
Giuliani, hired as a lawyer for Zarrab in 2017, had said in an affidavit both US and Turkish officials were “receptive” to a diplomatic solution due to the nature of the charges against 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.
Giuliani reportedly traveled to Turkey for a secret meeting with President Erdoğan to discuss the fate of Zarrab, making clear that he is “trying to turn a criminal case into a matter of international diplomacy.”
Only Zarrab and Atilla are currently in US custody after separately being arrested upon trying to enter the United States in 2016 and 2017, respectively.
Zarrab made a plea deal with prosecutors and has served as the key witness in Atilla’s trial. He testified in New York federal court in early December that he had bribed Turkey’s former economy minister, Mehmet Zafer Çağlayan, in a billion-dollar scheme to smuggle gold for oil in violation of US sanctions on Iran.
Zarrab said that Turkey’s then-prime minister and current president, Erdoğan, personally authorized the involvement of Turkish banks in the scheme.