Former US Attorney for New York South District, Preet Bharara said it is outrageous for Turkish autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to ask US administration to sack an American prosecutor, during a CNN show ‘Stay Tuned With Preet’ on Thursday.
Erdoğan asked former Vice President Joe Biden to fire US attorney Preet Bharara last September over Bharara’s involvement in denying bail to a Turkish-Iranian gold dealer set to go to trial in New York next month on charges of fraud and money laundering, according to the Washington Post.
Bharara wrote a memo last May alleging that the dealer, Reza Zarrab, “facilitated millions of dollars-worth of transactions on behalf of Iran… through a global network of companies located in Turkey and the United Arab Emirates ” designed to evade US sanctions.
The allegations did not stop at an elaborate laundering scheme, however, Bharara wrote in his memo denying Zarrab bail that the businessman “engaged in a massive bribery scheme… paying cabinet-level [Turkish] governmental officials and high-level bank officers tens of millions of Euro and US dollars” to facilitate his transactions, reported the Business Insider.
Erdoğan fiercely lobbied high-level Obama administration officials for Zarrab’s release, beginning shortly after Zarrab was arrested in Miami last March, according to the Washington Post’s David Ignatius. Erdoğan made personal appeals to both Biden and President Barack Obama, and sent his justice minister at the time to meet with then-Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch and argue that the case was “based on no evidence.”
Bharara has stated that “There is an interesting swirl of information between Turkish President Erdoğan, former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, defendant (Reza) Zarrab and (US President Donald) Trump’s White House,” according to a report by online news portal Washington Hattı.
Ignatius has written that President Erdoğan asked with then-Vice President Joe Biden on September 21, 2016 to fire then US Attorney Bharara for being “Gülenist tool” and devoted 45 minutes of 90 minute meeting to Zarrab’s case. Bharara has confirmed the reporting saying on CNN that he heard similar stuff from some people participated that meeting.
According to the report, on Thursday podcast, Bharara has responded to a question coming from follower on the same subject, started by asking that why would a leader of a foreign country ask a local attorney to be fired? Bharara stated that “The reason goes back to prosecution that is still pending at my old office. US vs Reza Zarrab. Zarrab is an Iranian national but Turkish resident. Who is a gold trader, a close associate of Erdoğan and a lot of his cronies, who we allege violated Iranian sanctions for a lot of money.”
“President Erdoğan made it clear that he is not happy with the case and wants the case to go away. Presumably the way he thinks is that the way business done in his country he wants to be done in this country. I believe Ignatius’ reporting of Joe Biden meeting is true, because I heard it at the time. Though no basis to believe it is true and someone followed Erdoğan’s advice. First of all, if it is true, it would be futile and useless. Joon Kim (acting US Attorney) is with all career prosecutors would be pursuing the case,” added Bharara.
Zarrab was not released, but Erdoğan apparently continued lobbying for his release into January. By the time Obama left office, the Turkish government had already begun establishing ties to people close to President Donald Trump, including Flynn and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani. Giuliani joined Zarrab’s legal team in March, shortly after Flynn was fired over his conversations with Russia’s former ambassador to the US, Sergei Kislyak. Giuliani and Zarrab’s other lawyer, Michael Mukasey, traveled to meet with Erdogan in February to discuss the case, according to The New York Times.
“But it raises interesting question,” said Bharara and continued “Giving the relationship Trump forged with increasingly authoritarian President Erdoğan and the relationship many newspapers reported between fired general Flynn had with Turkish government, where presumably these kind of conversations about dismissal of righteous case may have happened as well as to firing US attorney. I dont know what’s the truth and consequences of these meetings. Though there is an interesting swirl of information that involves President Erdoğan, fired General Flynn, defendant Zarrab and Trump’s White House.”
Giuliani told Bharara he was going to Ankara to meet with Erdoğan on February 24, according to The Washington Post. Bharara, who was appointed by Obama in 2009 and had been assured by Trump that he would be allowed to keep his job, was unexpectedly fired in early March.
Trump reached out Bharara one day before Attorney General Jeff Sessions asked for his resignation along with those of 45 other US attorneys who had been appointed by Obama. Bharara had not responded because of protocols governing a president’s contact with federal prosecutors.
A few weeks later, Giuliani began lobbying the Justice Department for “a state-to-state resolution of this case” that would aid American “security interests,” according to court documents filed in April.
Flynn’s ties to Turkey came under scrutiny in November, when he wrote an op-ed article for The Hill about Fethullah Gülen. It was later revealed that Flynn had been doing lobbying work for a Turkish businessman with ties to the government while serving as a top Trump campaign surrogate throughout the latter half of 2016.
Reminding that Erdoğan publicly accused him for visiting Turkey and fomenting a coup there, Bharara denied any involvement with July 15 coup attempt during his CNN interview and stated he never set a foot in Turkey. “The closest I got a turkey” Bharara said “was on a Thanksgiving Day.”