Turkish government has showed an unprecedented sensitivity for Reza Zarrab, a jailed Turkish-Iranian gold trader who has been charged in Manhattan with conspiring to violate US sanctions on Iran, and has issued a diplomatic note on Wednesday urging Washington to notify Turkish authorities before relocating Zarrab to a different detention facility.
It was reported in the pro-government Turkish media that Turkish Foreign Ministry has noted that Zarrab was recently threatened in a federal holding facility, which necessitated moving him to a different facility. It highlighted the importance of the US State Department’s assistance in notifying the Turkish embassy and their attorneys as soon as possible when Turkish citizens are moved to a new location as well as the reasons for such a decision.
In the note, the ministry asked the whereabouts of Zarrab, who was arrested in Miami last year over accusations of engaging in hundreds of millions of dollars-worth of transactions on behalf of the government of Iran and other Iranian entities, which were barred by U.S. sanctions, laundering the proceeds of those illegal transactions and defrauding several financial institutions by concealing the true nature of these transactions.
His lawyer has also said that he cannot communicate with Zarrab, who is standing trial in New York, and the Attorney General’s Office does not provide his specific whereabouts and the state of his health.
There was speculation in Turkish media after the U.S. Federal Bureau of Prisons website showed that Zarrab was released from prison on Nov. 8. However a spokesman for Acting US Attorney Joon Kim in Manhattan said on Monday that Zarrab remained in federal custody.
“The information that Zarrab was released is not factual,” Zarrab’s lawyer Şeyda Yıldırım told pro-government Hürriyet daily on Wednesday. “He might have been moved to a different section. We haven’t been informed in five days, we are unable to receive any information.”
Zarrab was arrested in Miami in March 2016 as part of an investigation into the violation of US sanctions on Iran. Turkey’s Halkbank Deputy General Manager Mehmet Hakan Atilla was also arrested in the US as part of the same investigation in March 2017.
Turkey’s autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan demanded the release of Zarrab as well as the firing of former US Attorney Preet Bharara, during a private meeting with then-US Vice President Joe Biden on Sept. 21, 2016, devoting half the 90-minute conversation to Zarrab, David Ignatius wrote for The Washington Post on Oct. 12.
“Erdogan’s campaign to free Zarrab has been extraordinary. He demanded his release as well as the firing of Bharara in a private meeting with then-Vice President Joe Biden on Sept. 21, 2016, in which U.S. officials say half the 90-minute conversation was devoted to Zarrab,” wrote Ignatius.
“Erdogan’s wife [Emine Erdoğan] pleaded the case that night to Jill Biden [wife of Biden]. Turkey’s then-justice minister, Bekir Bozdağ, visited then-Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch in October to argue that the case was ‘based on no evidence’ and that Zarrab should be released.”
The US District Court for the Southern District of New York on Sept. 6 indicted former Turkish Economy Minister Mehmet Zafer Çağlayan, former Halkbank General Manager Süleyman Aslan, Levent Bakkal and Abdullah Happani and ordered an arrest warrant for them.
The four are charged with conspiring to use the US financial system to conduct hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of transactions on behalf of the government of Iran and other Iranian entities barred by US sanctions.
Erdoğan stated in September that he had told Washington that Turkey had never agreed to comply with its sanctions on Iran and called on the US to review the indictment. He also said US President Donald Trump had called him and agreed to follow the case more closely.
Zarrab was the prime suspect in a major corruption investigation in Turkey that became public in December 2013 in which with others from the inner circle of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) government and then-Prime Minister Erdoğan for having paid Cabinet-level officials and bank officers bribes to facilitate transactions benefiting Iran.
After Erdoğan cast the case as a coup attempt to overthrow his government orchestrated by his political enemies, several prosecutors were removed from the case, police were reassigned and the investigation against Zarrab was dropped in Turkey.