The US government’s star witness in its case against Turkish officials accused of running a billion-dollar oil-for-gold scheme in violation of the Iran sanctions has admitted that he paid bribes to secure his release from jail when he was arrested on similar charges in 2013.
Reza Zarrab, who has pleaded guilty to his part in a conspiracy to help Iran evade US sanctions on its oil exports, told a court in New York that he paid a bribe to secure his release from prison in 2013 after his arrested in Turkey for helping Iran get around UN sanctions.
Mr Zarrab, a Turkish-Iranian gold trader, started off as a defendant in the case that has implicated the highest echelons of the Turkish government, but turned prosecution witness when he decided to plead guilty and testify against his co-defendant, Mehmet Hakan Atilla. Mr Attila, a deputy general manager at the state-owned Turkish bank, Halkbank, is accused of participating in a scheme to launder $1 billion of Iranian oil and gas revenues through US banks and on international markets in violation of US sanctions.
In his opening statement to the jury, prosecutor David W. Denton Jr called it “a fraud of truly global proportions. “Billions of Iranian dollars moving in a scheme so large that it affected the economies of countries in the Middle East, and so large that it was protected by government ministers in Turkey and Iran.”
Last week, Mr Zarrab testified that the sanctions-busting enterprise was personally ordered by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in 2012 when he prime minister. He also claimed that the then finance minister Zafer Caglayan had demanded a 50 percent cut from the proceeds and that he paid Mr Caglayan and the general manager of Halkbank, Suleyman Aslan, tens of millions in bribes. Mr Caglayan and Mr Suleyman are among several other accused who remain at large.
On December 2, prosecutors provided the defence with the summary of a phone call Zarrab made while he was in prison in which it is claimed he said “you need to admit to crimes you haven’t committed” in order to get a reduced sentence in the United States. The lawyers for the defence claimed that this is evidence that Zarrab is an unreliable witness who showed a “willingness to fabricate testimony out of whole cloth in order to obtain a reduced sentence.”
The Turkish government has denied the allegations against it saying they are fabrications of Fethullah Gulen, the exiled cleric whom Ankara blames for a failed coup attempt in 2016.