An İstanbul court on Friday ordered to forcibly summon Turkish celebrity singer Ebru Gündeş, the wife of Iranian billionaire Reza Zarrab, who is in a United States (US) jail and charged with evading sanctions on Iran, on charges of unlawfully renovating a waterfront mansion.
The court order is based on the accusation that Zarrab, Gündeş and another individual had a mansion in the Beykoz district renovated out of line with the Law on Protection of Cultural and Natural Assets. Prison sentence of up to three years is sought for each.
The latest hearing of the trial was attended by lawyer Ayten Hiçyılmaz, who was representing Gündeş and Zarrab, while her clients were absent.
Hiçyılmaz told the court that Gündeş was sick, hence, she could not participate in the hearing and added that the singer would be present in the next hearing. However, the court did not accept the lawyer’s excuse and ordered that she be summoned forcibly for testimony.
Plaintiffs were Hüseyin Sağ, a member of İstanbul municipal administration and the Republican People’s Party (CHP) and Hakkı Sağlam, CHP İstanbul provincial deputy chairman.
Speaking during the hearing, Sağ told the court that Zarrab is currently incarcerated in the US and requested an arrest warrant for the trial. The court ruled to send a writ to the Ministry of Justice to write to the US and ask which state Zarrab is currently detained. Following a response from the US, the court is planning to send the translated version of the case-file to the US. The court also decided to forcible summon Zarrab in the event that he is released from the US prison.
Zarrab, who was arrested in March by US authorities while in Miami, is accused of bank fraud, money laundering and evading US sanctions on Iran. US Attorney Preet Bharara is seeking up to 75 years in prison against the gold trader. Zarrab’s alleged partner Babak Zanjani was recently sentenced to death in Iran for embezzlement.
In Turkey, Zarrab was was a prime suspect in the Dec. 17, 2013 corruption scandal that shook the Turkish government to its core and resulted in 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. Erdoğan had 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.
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.
Zarrab’s attorney 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.