Who made Zarrab a Turkish citizen?
It was March 22 this year when I obtained, with certain difficulties, the mugshot of Iranian-origin Turkish businessman Reza Zarrab. He was denied bail in New York on May 26.
When I attended Zarrab’s bail hearing in New York last week, I saw that the judge was determined. I saw that the chief prosecutor, who strongly opposed any bail agreement, considered Zarrab’s conduct a threat to the United States’ national security. The chief prosecutor, who did not refrain from associating him with the leader of an ally country, did not bother to attend any portion of the 2.5-hour-long hearing despite such serious claims.
I saw a deputy chief prosecutor who was as stressed as the judge himself by the huge number of U.S. reporters accredited to the case. The judge and the deputy prosecutor were exhausted, they acted as if they wanted to “get over this.” There was a lawyer who talked so much that even the interpreter simultaneously whispering into Zarrab’s ear was exhausted.
This is indeed the visible side of the story. There are also emails sent to journalist from fake accounts where several documents are attached as if they were intelligence briefings. If you trust them you can be easily tricked. In short, the situation is not so bright.
On the other hand, it is a major opportunity for a journalist because you are able to learn previously unknown details about one of Turkey’s darkest men in recent history. For instance, through this case, we have learned that exactly two weeks after the U.S. Treasury Department blacklisted Babek Zanjani, the alleged partner of Reza Zarrab, on April 11, 2013, Zarrab’s father, Hüseyin Zarrab, was fined $9.1 million for violating U.S. sanctions against Iran.
More interestingly, because Hüseyin Zarrab cooperated with U.S. officials, the fine was reduced to $2.3 million. It was through this opportunity that personal information about Reza Zarrab and what donations he made to whom were disclosed. In the meantime, I was able to find the answer about the most pressing question about Zarrab.
According to the petition submitted to the court by Zarrab’s lawyer, Benjamin Brafman, Zarrab was born in Tehran in 1983 and his family moved to Turkey when he was 1. They moved to Dubai in 1999, but in 2002, when he was 19 years old, he came back to Turkey alone.
According to my research of his company records, the statements of the defense lawyers and in the Interior Ministry, I learned when and how Zarrab was made a Turkish citizen. Zarrab was made a Turkish citizen in a cabinet meeting on June 1, 2007.
His application for Turkish citizenship is dated 2005 even though he came to Turkey much earlier in the 1980s. The year 2005 was the year when Mahmud Ahmadinejad came to power in Iran.
The interior minister of the time, Abdülkadir Aksu, said he did not personally know Zarrab, but as the procedure goes, institutions such as the National Intelligence Organization (MİT) and tax department investigate and report their opinion. He sent the ball to their court. However, according to his lawyers, Zarrab became a Turkish citizen due to being an exceptional businessman, but there is no concrete evidence of that.
He only had two companies registered in his name at that time: an export company, Zafer İthalat İhracat, and half of a construction company called Bella İnşaat.
Apart from these two, he was elected as the head of the executive committee of the foreign exchange office at Durak Döviz, now known as Hayyam Döviz, under the name Rıza Sarraf.
Even more interestingly, I scanned the Official Gazette editions after Zarrab was given citizenship. I could not come across the decision in an online archive either. When I spoke to some expert intelligence officers, I learned that from time to time, the state would deem certain people beneficial and make them Turkish citizens through an exceptional cabinet decree but that these cases would not be published in the Official Gazette in order not to violate the laws.
What will come out of the New York courtroom is not known at present. But if one day the Reza Zarrab file that was sent to Turkey during the Ahmadinejad years is opened, I think the first question would be this: Who and for what reason made this person a Turkish citizen?