Zarrab says he resumed violating sanctions at Turkish President Erdoğan’s order

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (L), Reza Zarrab (C) and Energy Minister Berat Albayrak.

Turkish-Iranian gold trader Reza Zarrab, a key prosecution witness in the New York trial of a Turkish banker charged with violating US sanctions on Iran, on Thursday said he resumed violating sanctions upon the order of then-Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, according to İhan Tanır, a Turkish journalist following the case in New York.

Zarrab has confirmed the existence of text messages to his lawyers in Turkey saying that he had restarted violating US sanctions on Iran in June 2014 at the order of Erdoğan and his son-in-law and current Energy Minister Berat Albayrak after he was released from a Turkish prison on Feb. 28, 2014, Tanır reported.


Zarrab has also said on Thursday that he was removed from a New York federal jail after another inmate threatened to kill him for cooperating with authorities. “He said that he had received instructions to kill because I was cooperating,” the trader Reza Zarrab told jurors in a Manhattan courtroom. He did not identify the person or say when the threat was made, according to a report by Reuters.

Zarrab said that after the encounter, he was transferred from Brooklyn, New York’s Metropolitan Detention Center to the custody of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The account came near the end of Zarrab’s testimony, which began last Wednesday and concluded on Thursday afternoon.

While he was being held in a federal detention center in Brooklyn, Zarrab told the jury, an inmate pulled a knife and said he been instructed to kill him. “I was about to lose my life,” Zarrab testified. “He said that he had heard that I was cooperating — that’s why he was doing it.” He was removed from the Brooklyn jail and placed in the FBI’s custody.

According to a report by the New York Times on Saturday, “Do you still have any of those things?” a prosecutor, Sidhardha Kamaraju, asked him.

However, when Fleming asked Zarrab about a letter he signed to former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad pledging to aid in “economic jihad,” Zarrab denied making such a pledge. He said he did not read Farsi and had signed the letter without knowing what it meant.

Zarrab also denied telling his uncle in a telephone call from jail “that in this country you have to admit to something you haven’t done in order to become free.” A summary of that call was included in a court filing by Atilla’s lawyers earlier this week.

Over his seven days of testimony in Manhattan federal court, Zarrab said Turkish officials took bribes and helped Iran launder money. The case has strained ties between the United States and Turkey, both members of the NATO military alliance. Turkish autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has cast the trial as an attempt to undermine his country and its economy.

Zarrab and eight other people, including Turkey’s former economy minister 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.

The gold trader had been held in a New York prison awaiting trial but said today he was removed after a fellow inmate pulled a knife and tried to kill him for cooperating with prosecutors, part of a plea deal agreed by Zarrab part to lessen his prison sentence.

Zarrab was the prime suspect in a major corruption investigation in Turkey that became public in December 2013 and implicated the inner circle of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) government and then-Prime Minister Erdoğan. Zarrab was alleged to have 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.

The Turkish-Iranian gold trader on Monday told the New York court that he made payments to secure his release in February 2014 and that those payments were partly bribes.

Zarrab, who was arrested in the US in March 2016, testified in federal court last week that he had bribed Turkey’s former economy minister, Zafer Çağlayan, in a billion-dollar scheme to smuggle gold for oil in violation of US sanctions on Iran.

Zarrab said that Erdoğan personally authorized the involvement of Turkish banks in the scheme to evade US sanctions on Iran.

Zarrab also said for the first time that Turkey’s Ziraat Bank and VakıfBank were involved in the scheme and that former Deputy Prime Minister Ali Babacan signed off with Erdoğan on the operation.

While Zarrab revealed his tactics and accomplices within the Turkish government in violating US sanctions on Iran in New York federal court, President Erdoğan said on Tuesday that the case was an international coup attempt against Turkey. (SCF with

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