Iran sanctions-busting Turkish-Iranian gold trader Zarrab seen in New York sushi restaurant

Reza Zarrab, a Turkish-Iranian millionaire gold trader who turned witness in the New York trial of a Turkish banker charged with evading US sanctions on Iran was photographed in a sushi restaurant in New York, according to a report by Turkey’s pro-government Hürriyet daily on Wednesday.

Zarrab, who was also arrested in the US in 2016 over evading sanctions on Iran, was seen dining with an unidentified woman at Nobu and later left the restaurant after he noticed that he was recognized by people around him.

The woman was identified by Turkish media on Thursday as Ayşegül Akgün, a former fan and estranged friend of Zarrab’s ex-wife and singer Ebru Gündeş.

After his arrest in the US, Zarrab had initially pleaded not guilty then flipped, becoming a US government witness. Admitting being involved in the multibillion-dollar gold-for-oil scheme to subvert US economic sanctions against Iran, Zarrab struck a deal with the prosecution for a more lenient sentence.

It was earlier announced that Zarrab was kept in a special section of a New York prison. He became the US prosecution’s star witness in the trial, leaving former Halkbank deputy general manager Mehmet Hakan Atilla as the only defendant in the case. Atilla was convicted by a New York jury on Jan. 3 on five counts of bank fraud and conspiracy. He was sentenced to 32 months in prison.

Turkish state-owned Halkbank had helped launder the proceeds of the complex oil-for-gold scheme that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had green-lighted and that a Turkish minister had taken millions of dollars in bribes to cover up the plot.

Zarrab was believed to still be in custody while awaiting an expected reduced sentence in return for pleading guilty and providing evidence to incriminate others in the scheme. But a photograph of him taken while he was eating in a New York sushi restaurant showed him apparently at liberty.

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