United States (US) Attorney Preet Bharara applied to the court to submit an additional petition in the ongoing trial of Iranian-Turkish gold trader Reza Zarrab, who was the key figure in a government-involved corruption scandal in Turkey in 2013 and is now being tried in New York for evading US sanctions against Iran.
Bharara, the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, earlier opposed Zarrab’s request to be released on bail saying that he is likely to escape and citing his strong ties to the Turkish officials, as well as 2013’s major bribery scandal involving him and Turkey.
Zarrab’s lawyer Benjamin Brafman had asked the Manhattan court last Tuesday to release his client on a $50 million bond, $10 million of which is cash. Following his objection to the offer, Bharara has made a new move by applying the court with a request to submit a new petition of 58 pages, ahead of Thursday’s hearing that will include bail discussion.
Bharara is seeking a total of 75 years of imprisonment against Zarrab on charges of conspiring to violate US sanctions on Iran, bank fraud and money laundering.
In Turkey, Zarrab was at the center of the Dec. 17, 2013 corruption investigation that shook the Turkish government to its core and led to the resignation of four ministers. He was accused of bribing Turkish Cabinet ministers in exchange of favorable financial dealings as part of a scheme to evade US-led Iranian sanctions. The twin graft investigations targeted President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his inner circle.
Zarrab was among 21 people — including the sons of three then-ministers, a district mayor, a director of a state-owned bank and other high-profile figures — who were arrested as part of the corruption and bribery operation that went public on Dec. 17, 2013 in a series of simultaneous police raids. Zarrab and all the other suspects were released and the charges were dropped after a government move that dismissed the prosecutors who oversaw the investigation, after then-Prime Minister Erdoğan called the investigation a “coup attempt.” In addition, thousands of prosecutors, judges and police chiefs were reassigned, dismissed or imprisoned for taking part in the corruption investigation.
President Erdoğan earlier described Zarrab as a “philanthropist” following allegations that he generously bribed ministers in turn for favors ranging from getting a Turkish citizenship and evading customs for controversial shipments.
Last week, Zarrab’s attorney Benjamin Brafman said his jailed client donated a total amount of $4,6 million to a non-profit group called Togem-Der (Social Development Center of Education and Social Solidarity Association), which was founded by Erdoğan’s wife, First Lady Emine Erdoğan.
The first lady’s foundation immediately closed down its website, after it became public that Zarrab wasn’t listed as a donor in the Togem-Der’s website where Erdoğan’s two daughters and dozens of business tycoons across Turkey are named on the list.