Reza Zarrab, a Turkish-Iranian gold trader who turned witness in the New York trial of a Turkish banker charged with evading US sanctions on Iran, has been spotted in New York City while leaving an upscale downtown hotel, according to a report by Turkey’s pro-government Hürriyet Daily News on Friday.
Zarrab, who was photographed while dining with a woman at New York’s Nobu restaurant last week, left the Four Seasons Hotel New York Downtown on Friday in a Cadillac Escalade. Staying in the hotel under an alias, Zarrab reportedly refused to answer Hürriyet’s questions and sped away in the SUV. He was escorted by his driver, with no bodyguard or a law enforcement officer in sight.
A hotel clerk said the controversial businessman was “probably going to the Hamptons.”
After his arrest in the US, Zarrab had initially pleaded not guilty then flipped, becoming a US government witness. Admitting involvement in a 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 and 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 which a Turkish minister had taken millions of dollars in bribes to cover up.
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.