Turkish gov’t seizes Reza Zarrab’s private jet at Atatürk Airport in İstanbul

Challenger 300

Turkish government has seized a $58-million Challenger 300 private jet on Thursday at İstanbul International Atatürk Airport belonging to Turkish-Iranian businessman Reza Zarrab, who became a key witness in the case of Turkish bank executive Hakan Atilla tried over evading US sanctions on Iran. Zarrab is accused by Turkish authorities of leaking state secrets.

İstanbul Chief  Prosecutor’s Office decided on Dec. 1, 2017 to seize the assets of Zarrab and those of his acquaintances as part of an investigation against him. His offices in İstanbul had already been closed after the ruling.

Six days after the ruling, officials from the İstanbul Chief Prosecutor’s Office arrived at the airport’s main apron, seizing the Challenger 300 type jet belonging to the ARE Aviation company owned by Zarrab. The private jet was reportedly last used on Nov. 30, 2017.

Separately, it was also reported that proceedings were launched to seize Zarrab’s Malta-flagged luxurious yacht worth 7 million euros in the Aegean resort of Bodrum. The yacht named ’60 years’ had been at the shipyard of the Bodrum Port for about the last one and a half year.

ZARRAB’S EX-CELLMATE ACCUSES HIM OF RAPE

Meanwhile, the New York Times wrote on Thursday that  Zarrab has been sued by an inmate who claims Zarrab sexually assaulted him when the men shared a cell in a Manhattan jail. The suit was filed Wednesday evening, after Zarrab completed his 6th day of testimony in the trial.

Prosecutors revealed last week that  Zarrab secretly pleaded guilty on Oct. 26 to the sanctions violations, as well to bribing a jail guard to obtain contraband like alcohol and to use the guard’s cellphone.

According to the report, the sexual assault allegations in the lawsuit are unrelated to the jail guard bribery count, and have not surfaced in the trial, either in Zarrab’s testimony or in statements by prosecutors or defense lawyers. Robert J. Anello, a lawyer for Zarrab, said Thursday, “The allegations are outrageous and false from a source that is not remotely credible.”

The inmate’s lawyer, Alexei Schacht, said an inquiry by the jail had found the complaint to be unsubstantiated, but said this meant only that officials there had concluded there was insufficient evidence to establish whether the assault had occurred. A spokesman for the jail did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The lawsuit says the abuse, which included rape, occurred between November 2016 and March 2017, when the men were cellmates at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Lower Manhattan. The inmate, who is not being identified because he is an alleged sexual assault victim, claims that he and Zarrab became friends in the jail and that Zarrab offered to pay for him to retain a private lawyer. He had been represented by a public defender. Zarrab also had money wired to the inmate’s family in Africa and placed in the inmate’s commissary account, the lawsuit said.

According to NYT report, the inmate, who is in his early 60s, “felt helpless and unable to fight off the younger and stronger” man, the suit says, adding that the inmate was also “too scared and embarrassed at that time to complain or to seek help.”

On March 8, the suit says, after the inmate again was attacked by Zarrab and began yelling and making noise, other inmates apparently complained to the jail, as did the inmate himself. “Being in jail is a bad enough experience for someone,” said Schacht, the inmate’s lawyer, “and this just made his experience so much worse.”

The inmate pleaded guilty in July to one count of conspiring to provide material support for a terrorist group and is awaiting sentencing in federal court. Schacht, asked why he had filed the suit the week  Zarrab was testifying in the sanctions case, said the timing was coincidental and largely a factor of his being retained recently to represent the inmate and of conducting his own investigation. A spokeswoman for the United States attorney’s office in Manhattan declined to comment.

Meanwhile, Turkish government declares to take necessary measures if its banking system is impacted by the ongoing US court case over alleged Iran sanctions evasion, Finance Minister Naci Ağbal told Reuters in an interview.

Ağbal said Ankara would do whatever was needed to protect the interests of its banks, comments aimed at easing investor concern about the potential fall-out from the trial of an executive of state lender Halkbank.

“We say if anything is going to happen, in this situation we will stand by the banks,” he said late on Wednesday. “We must not allow any eventuality that would weaken our banking system.”

A wealthy Turkish-Iranian gold trader, Reza Zarrab, has pleaded guilty to charges that he schemed to help Iran evade US sanctions and is testifying in a US court against the Halkbank executive, Mehmet Hakan Atilla, for related charges.

Atilla has pleaded innocent and Halkbank has said all of its transactions have complied with international and domestic regulations. Ankara has said the case is politically motivated and an attempt to undermine Turkey’s economy and government.

International investors have expressed concern that banks could be drawn into the US case. Ağbal also said the government was determined to take all steps to reduce forex volatility.

Arrested in Miami in March 2016 on charges of evading US sanctions on Iran, Zarrab, 34, has pleaded guilty of the charges and agreed to cooperate with the prosecutor in bid to reduce or, if possible, avoid punishment.

Zarrab and eight other people, including Turkey’s former economy minister Zafer Çağlayan and three Halkbank executives, have been charged with engaging in transactions worth hundreds of millions of dollars for Iran’s government and Iranian entities from 2010 to 2015 in a scheme to evade US sanctions.

Zarrab was the prime suspect in a major corruption investigation in Turkey that became public in December 17, 2013 in which with others from the inner circle of the ruling AKP government and then-Prime Minister Erdoğan for having paid Cabinet-level officials and bank officers bribes to facilitate transactions benefiting Iran.

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