Bloomberg– The trial of a Turkish-Iranian gold trader accused of helping Iran evade U.S. sanctions and bribing senior Turkish officials was put off for a week as mystery continues to shroud the proceedings.
The prosecution of Reza Zarrab has attracted intense scrutiny with indications that top Turkish officials and banking executives might have been paid tens of millions of dollars for their help in the money-laundering and sanctions-evasion scheme. U.S. prosecutors filed court papers citing evidence of Zarrab’s relationship with Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, noting the two had conversations that were taped and which suggested the trader told Erdogan of the scheme.
Lawyers for Zarrab’s co-defendant Mehmet Atilla met with the judge and prosecutors for two hours Monday, before it was announced the trial was being delayed. Doors to the courtroom were locked during the session and an audiovisual feed was cut off. The lawyers declined to comment on the proceedings as they left.
Zarrab’s trial was scheduled to start Monday with jury selection. But Zarrab hasn’t participated in pre-trial proceedings since September, and Atilla’s lawyers have filed court papers saying Zarrab doesn’t appear to be preparing to go to trial.
When asked on Nov. 16 whether Zarrab would be on trial, a smiling U.S. District Court Judge Richard Berman declined to answer and told lawyers to watch the court docket.
Nothing has been entered in the docket to answer the question, but the judge’s recent orders may offer a hint. While the case was titled U.S. v. Zarrab et al throughout the proceedings, in a Nov. 16 order, and those following, the judge issued his edicts under the title U.S. v. Mehmet Hakan Atilla. Some lawyers haven’t caught up yet and still file documents under the title of U.S. v. Zarrab.
The case is adding to a deepening geopolitical rift between the U.S. and Turkey, with Turkish officials demanding Zarrab’s release and asking for the prosecution to be dropped. At one point this year, Zarrab hired Trump confidant and ex-New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani to approach senior administration officials about resolving the case.
Turkey accused the U.S. of accepting illegally obtained information to be used as evidence at the trial. Istanbul’s top prosecutor began a probe of Joon H. Kim, the acting U.S. Attorney in Manhattan, and his predecessor, Preet Bharara.
Earlier this month, the prisoner registry for the U.S. Bureau of Prisons said Zarrab had been released, through people familiar with the case say he remains in U.S. custody. Neither Zarrab nor his lawyers were in court Monday during the portions of the morning that were visible to the public.
The case is U.S. v. Zarrab, 15-cr-867, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).