Reza Zarrab, Taped in Jail, Said Lying Was Ticket to Freedom

Reza Zarrab, Taped in Jail, Said Lying Was Ticket to Freedom


It was not until last week that prosecutors revealed that Mr. Zarrab, 34, had pleaded guilty on Oct. 26 in a secret court hearing and became a cooperating government witness in the sanctions case. On Wednesday, asked why he had decided to assist the government, Mr. Zarrab testified during the trial, “Cooperation was the fastest way to accept responsibility and to get out of jail at once.”

The defense’s legal filing came on the fourth day of testimony by Mr. Zarrab, a Turkish-Iranian gold trader who pleaded guilty to helping orchestrate a billion-dollar oil-for-gold scheme in violation of the sanctions. Last week, he testified that in 2012, he paid tens of millions of dollars in bribes to Turkey’s then-foreign minister, Zafer Caglayan, to help with the scheme.

Mr. Zarrab also testified at the trial in Federal District Court in Manhattan that Recep Tayyip Erdogan, then Turkey’s prime minister and now its president, personally ordered that two Turkish banks be allowed to participate in the scheme.

On Monday, Mr. Zarrab testified that he paid bribes to obtain his release after being arrested in December 2013 in an investigation by the Turkish police, and that he soon restarted his sanctions-busting activities.

Jurors in the New York case have been told that corrupt Turkish officials shut down the investigation and organized a purge of the police and prosecutors who ran it. They were also told that Mr. Zarrab had put up bribe money for judges, “so that everything could be made to go away.”

In Turkey, officials remained defiant over the weekend in their attitude toward the case, which has the country abuzz over the allegations of huge bribes and political influence. In a speech to supporters on Saturday, President Erdogan denounced the United States court and repeated accusations that members of the Fethullah Gulen movement, often referred to as FETO, had fabricated the evidence.

“Fake, unreal courts cannot sentence my country,” he told a local party congress in the eastern city of Kars. “Fake, unreal courts constituted with fictitious representatives of the so-called vile FETO can never sentence my country. We serve, others smear.”

Turkey’s foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, followed suit, repeating allegations that followers of Mr. Gulen had infiltrated American diplomatic missions in Turkey and even institutions in the United States. “We tell Americans, to their face: We know how FETO infiltrated American institutions and judiciary,” he said at a groundbreaking for a cultural center in Antalya.

The Turkish financial police continued actions to seize the assets of Mr. Zarrab and 22 others connected to him. Turkish newspapers published a list of assets seized from Mr. Zarrab, showing that he owned real estate valued at close to 300 million lira, or about $75 million, and a private jet worth $12 million. Three of his employees were detained and charged with “providing documents” to the United States court.

The conversation in which Mr. Zarrab was quoted saying that one needed to lie to get out of prison took place on Sept. 15, 2016, the summary says. That was six months after his arrest and more than a year before he pleaded guilty.

In their letter to Judge Richard M. Berman, Mr. Atilla’s lawyers said due process required that prosecutors disclose evidence that is exculpatory or could be used to help impeach a government witness “in sufficient time to permit the defendant to make effective use of that information at trial.”

Robert J. Anello, a lawyer for Mr. Zarrab, said in an emailed comment on Monday, “Mr. Zarrab understands his obligation to provide fully truthful testimony.” The United States attorney’s office in Manhattan declined to comment, as did a lawyer for Mr. Atilla.

Two other conversations summarized in the court filing appear to touch on Mr. Zarrab’s efforts to resolve his case through diplomatic or political means.

The summary of an Oct. 20, 2016, conversation quotes Mr. Zarrab as being told, “six people will be exchanged for four people.” It adds, “Don’t worry they will release/exchange you, too.”

In a Nov. 4, 2016, call, an unidentified male speaker was recorded telling Mr. Zarrab that his Turkish lawyer had already talked to “Mevlut and Bekir” — apparently references to Foreign Minister Cavusoglu and the justice minister then, Bekir Bozdag — and that the lawyer would talk to “Beyefendi,” an apparent reference to Mr. Erdogan.

The male speaker suggests that “Beyefendi” might call President Barack Obama. In 2016, Mr. Erdogan raised Mr. Zarrab’s case with Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. during talks at the United Nations, according to Turkish news reports. He did so again with President Trump this past September.



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