US prosecutor says Zarrab’s demand for judge replacement ‘baseless’
NEW YORK – Doğan News AgencyThe prosecutor probing Iranian-Turkish businessman Reza Zarrab on charges of money laundering and sanctions evasion has sent a letter to the court with a demand to overturn the defendant’s recent appeal to replace the case’s judge over a suspicion of bias.
The letter was sent by Southern District of New York Prosecutor Preet Bharara in response to the defendant’s argument that the judge in the case, Richard Berman, was not impartial as he had given statements critical of the Turkish legal system and used Zarrab’s dropped case in Turkey as a basis for this criticism at a 2014 legal conference in Istanbul.
Bharara said the defendant’s side had already known about the judge’s remarks during the conference and had stated their belief that this would not affect the judge’s impartiality and objectivity. Bhrara added the defendant’s demand for Berman’s removal some four months after learning this fact directly from the judge during the first hearing of the case, and demanding the replacement of the judge based on that argument, were “baseless.”
During Zarrab’s first hearing, Berman opened the trial by mentioning the May 2014 symposium he attended, and Zarrab’s lawyer, Benjamin Brafman, said at the time that his attendance at the event would not affect his objectivity in the case.
In his letter to the court, Bhara also highlighted that Zarrab has been demanding bail since the day his trial began and that he had made another demand for the case to be dropped, both of which were rejected by the court.
Currently under trial in the United States, Zarrab, 32, was the prime suspect in a corruption and bribery scandal involving the Turkish government that went public on Dec. 17, 2013. He is accused of being the ringleader of a money laundering and gold smuggling ring in Turkey that circumvented sanctions against Iran.
The charges were dismissed after prosecutors investigating the case were accused by the ruling party and then-Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of plotting against the government and removed from their posts.
Four former cabinet members - EU Minister Egemen Bağış, Economy Minister Zafer Çağlayan, Interior Minister Muammer Güler and Urban Planning Minister Erdoğan Bayraktar - were accused in the probe before the cases were dropped.
Erdoğan and the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) accused followers of U.S.-based Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen of using the case to plot against the government, before launching a huge crackdown on the group in state institutions, security bodies and the private sector.