Erdogan helped Iran evade U.S. sanctions, Zarrab claims

Cheryl Sanders
December 8, 2017

Turkish-Iranian gold trader Reza Zarrab, who agreed to cooperate with prosecutors to not stand trial in the United States over a breach of now-lifted US sanctions on Iran, money laundering and other charges, was accused late Thursday by an ex-cellmate in his early 60s of sexual assault in a Manhattan prison.

Zarrab testified that "someone" was Turkish businessman Berat Albayrak, who is Erdogan's son-in-law and now Turkey's minister of energy.

Capping off a week on the witness stand in an Iran sanctions case, gold trader Reza Zarrab recounted an attempt to assassinate him inside a US prison because of his testimony that has implicated Turkey's president and ministers in billions of illicit transactions. He said Atilla helped structure those transactions. Zarrab said he used the guard's phone to speak with his wife, daughter and lawyer.

"On Wednesday, a letter of the defense cited a September 2016 jailhouse call in which Zarrab said he needed to lie in "'in order to get out or to get a reduced sentence". The U.S. Bureau of Prisons did not immediately respond to a request for comment. He has pleaded not guilty. Under questioning by Fleming, Zarrab said he attended meetings with Atilla a "handful" of times during that period.

Over his seven days of testimony in Manhattan federal court, Zarrab said Turkish officials took bribes and helped Iran launder money.

Zarrab said that the man acknowledged coming after him because he had flipped to the US government. He said he had a "close relationship" with Suleyman Aslan, who was Halkbank's general manager and Atilla's superior until 2013.

President Recep Tayip Erdogan's administration seized Zarrab's assets and those of his family the day after Zarrab implicated him in a money laundering scheme: When Erdogan was prime minister, Zarrab said, the Turkish leader personally ordered transactions that would launder billions of dollars to Iran in violation of US sanctions.

Zarrab had testified earlier in the case that he complained to Aslan when Atilla refused to sign off on a transaction related to a sham sale of food to Iran.

Zarrab said he paid bribes to Aslan, repeating his testimony in direct examination, but never to Atilla.

Zarrab testified on Tuesday that in return for his guilty plea prosecutors said he would not be charged with lying to law enforcement officers after his arrest and smoking synthetic marijuana in jail.

"I'm here now", the 34-year-old told Assistant U.S. Attorney Sidhardha Kamaraju.

A trial playing out in NY is being watched carefully in Turkey.

His testimony turned dramatic Thursday as it neared its end as Assistant U.S. Attorney Sidhardha Kamaraju elicited a description of a jailhouse attack.

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