Who’s the recipient of the Zarrab ‘message?’
The U.S. Department of Justice announced on March 21 that Iranian origin Turkish businessman Reza Zarrab had been arrested on charges of “engaging in hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of transactions on behalf of the government of Iran and other Iranian entities, which were barred by U.S. sanctions, laundering the proceeds of those illegal transactions and defrauding several financial institutions by concealing the true nature of these transactions.”
According to a written statement, 75 years in jail will be sought for the dual national businessman, together with two other Iran nationals, Camelia Jamshidy and Hossein Najafzadeh.
The probe was carried out by U.S. attorney Preet Bharara, who is renown with his successful cases regarding the financial wrongdoings on Wall Street; the Bank of America had to pay $1 billion in compensation as a result of a probe by Bharara. Late on March 21, Bharara wrote on his Twitter account: “Reza Zarrab to soon face American justice in a Manhattan courtroom.”
Zarrab’s name became widely known to Turkish and international public opinion when he was arrested by an Istanbul court as part of a graft probe opened on Dec. 17, 2013, which involved four former ministers of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) - namely Interior Minister Muammer Güler, Industry Minister Zafer Çağlayan, Urbanization Affairs Minister Erdoğan Bayraktar and European Union Affairs Minister Egemen Bağış. President Tayyip Erdoğan, then the prime minister, had left those names out of the cabinet in a move on Dec. 25, 2013, but as another probe was opened on that day, this time alleging his family members through alleged telephone tapings, he denounced the probes as a coup attempt by his former ally, Islamist ideologue Fethullah Gülen who lives in the U.S., through his sympathizers in the judiciary and security.
The cases were soon dropped and Zarrab was released after spending 70 days in prison, after charges on getting involved in gold-for-oil trade with Iran under U.S. sanctions were dropped. Last year he received a “successful exporter” award from the hands of Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmuş, together with a number of other businessmen.
Babak Zanjani, an Iranian businessman allegedly linked to Zarrab, was sentenced to death by an Iranian court on March 6 for not registering $2.8 billion gained from oil trade.
There are speculations in the Turkish media that Zarrab traveled to the U.S. to purposefully get arrested and then plea bargain so he would receive a reduced penalty in exchange for providing information and giving names, instead of getting a heavier penalty in Iran, if arrested. All charges against Zanjani and Zarrab involved the term of former Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad, not current President Hassan Rouhani, who shook the hand put forward by U.S. President Barack Obama and closed the nuclear deal with the U.N.
The words of FBI Assistant Director in Charge Diego Rodriguez are important, as he was quoted saying: “The charges announced today should send a message to those who try to hide who are their true business partners.”
If Zarrab gives the names of his “true partners,” as Rodriguez put it, some people in Iran and perhaps in Turkey might feel uncomfortable.