Turkish Minute – Two prominent lawyers added last week to the legal team of Reza Zarrab, a Turkish-Iranian businessman who is awaiting trial on charges of violating US sanctions on Iran, are working to resolve the case with Trump administration officials and the Turkish government instead of the US attorney’s office that is prosecuting him, according to a report in The New York Times on Sunday.
Former Mayor of New York City and close Trump associate Rudolph Giuliani and attorney general under the George W. Bush administration Michael Mukasey are reportedly bypassing the US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York in efforts to negotiate a deal for their new client. The two men have also traveled to Turkey to meet with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to discuss a potential resolution of the case, with the knowledge of current Attorney General Jeff Sessions, court filings on Friday indicate.
A letter sent to the judge in the case, Richard M. Berman, by acting US Attorney in Manhattan Joon H. Kim said Giuliani and Mukasey had “sought to meet other officials in the U.S. government outside of this office.” It also raised possible conflicts of interest that Zarrab’s representation by Giuliani and Mukasey might present and said Judge Berman was entitled to better understand the roles of the two new lawyers and that the defendant should be made aware of any conflicts of interest that could arise from their representation.
Kim’s office noted in its letter that Giuliani’s law firm, Greenberg Traurig, had worked as a registered agent of Turkey, meaning that the law office appeared to be representing both Zarrab and the Turkish government, and that both Greenberg Traurig and Mukasey’s firm, Debevoise & Plimpton, represented banks claimed by prosecutors to have been victims in Zarrab’s case.
Another of Zarrab’s defense lawyers, Benjamin Brafman, in a letter to the judge said the prosecutors were “not entitled to know what Messrs. Giuliani and Mukasey are attempting to do in their efforts to assist the defendant.”
A hearing has been scheduled for Tuesday to address the issues raised by the two sides in the case.
Zarrab’s trial in the US has drawn much attention in Turkey as he was briefly detained in 2013 along with others from the inner circle of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) government and then-Prime Minister Erdoğan for having 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.
When he arrived in Miami in March 2016 for a holiday in Florida with his wife and daughter, Zarrab was arrested at the airport as part of an investigation by Preet Bharara, then-US attorney for the southern district of New York.
In December, Bharara, who indicted Zarrab on charges of violation of US sanctions on Iran, added new evidence to his indictment, claiming Deutsche Bank and Bank of America were swindled by Zarrab.
According to the indictment, Bharara claims that Zarrab, 33, participated in transactions to benefit Iran-based Mahan Air, which the US government has sanctioned for providing services to Iran’s Quds Force as well as Hezbollah.