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Official notice reveals corruption suspect Zarrab is still financially active in Turkey

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An official notice placed in a newspaper by Turkey’s Social Security Institution (SGK) shows that a company owned by Iranian-Turkish businessman Reza Zarrab, who took a plea deal in 2017 and agreed to testify in US Federal court and was one of the prime suspects in a corruption investigation in Turkey, is in debt to the organization, indicating that he is still continuing his business activities in Turkey.

The development was brought to public attention by Cumhuriyet daily columnist Barış Pehlivan in an article published on Thursday.

According to Pehlivan, the notice run in Cumhuriyet on Dec. 29 listed Zarrab’s name among 77 people who were in debt to the SGK and showed that his debt, in the amount of TL 1,654,024,520 ($122 million), involved the activities of one of his companies between 2016 and 2021.

“Zarrab left Turkey for the US in 2016. All of his assets were seized [by the Turkish government] in 2017. If this is the case, how should we interpret [the fact] that a company in Turkey, which is registered to Zarrab and understood to be still operating, is in debt to the SGK in 2021? … Doesn’t the SGK, and therefore, the government, know that Zarrab lives in Miami? … It is too much trouble for you to go after the money owed you through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs?” Pehlivan said.

An investigation by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), a platform for a worldwide network of independent media centers and journalists who conduct investigations in the public interest, revealed in early December that Zarrab remained connected to his former criminal network and had received multiple questionable wire transfers from Turkey.

“Federal officials have since [2017] kept him [Zarrab] out of the spotlight, while allowing him to live a government-sanctioned life of luxury under a false identity in Miami,” the platform said, adding that he could afford a “lavish” lifestyle, partly funded by wire transfers from Turkey, and that he had invested in thoroughbred horses and a palatial equestrian facility, using fake identities, one of them being “Aaron Goldsmith.”

Zarrab testified in December 2017 that he had bribed Turkey’s former economy minister, Mehmet Zafer Çağlayan, in a scheme to smuggle gold for oil in violation of US sanctions on Iran and that then-prime minister and current President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan personally authorized the involvement of Turkish banks in the scheme, although he was not charged in the case.

Zarrab was one of the main suspects in the Dec. 17-25 corruption investigations that shook the country in 2013. He was accused of paying large bribes to Turkish ministers and bureaucrats as part of the probe that implicated the family members of four cabinet ministers and Erdoğan’s children, among others.

Dismissing the investigation as a conspiracy against his government by the Gülen movement, a group inspired by Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen, Erdoğan designated the faith-based movement as a terrorist organization and began to target its members, removing prosecutors and police chiefs from the case.

The closed Dec. 17 investigation had come into the spotlight once more back in August, when Erdoğan Bayraktar, the former Turkish minister of environment and urban planning and one of the four ministers implicated in the 2013 probes, confirmed the validity of charges against him in connection with the graft scandal.

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