Reza Zarrab to testify against Turkish banker Atilla in case of US sanctions on Iran
Turkish-Iranian businessman Reza Zarrab has agreed to testify against former Halkbank deputy general manager Hakan Atilla in a case about evading U.S. sanctions on Iran, Doğan News Agency reported on Nov. 28, citing a prosecutor in the case.
Ahead of the hearing on Nov. 28, U.S. District Judge Richard Berman questioned Assistant U.S. Attorney Sidhardha Kamaraju about who will attend the hearing as a witness. Kamaraju reportedly responded that Zarrab was pleading guilty and would be brought to the court on Nov. 29 as a witness against Atilla.
The prosecutor also added that Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) expert Mark Dubowitz, FBI spy Lisa Palluconi, and FBI witness Bülent Bulut will also appear before the court as witnesses for the prosecution.
The court also rejected a request by Atilla’s defense lawyers to adjourn the hearing to Dec. 11 as he needed time to prepare for Zarrab’s testimony.
Defense lawyer Robert Fettweis noted that prosecutors recently released 10,000 pages of evidence related to Zarrab, including emails.
Judge Berman rejected the postponement request, saying lawyers should have known for months that Zarrab would testify, according to a report by The Associated Press.
Zarrab stopped appearing in court a number of weeks ago, prompting speculation he would cut a deal and was cooperating with U.S. officials. A prosecutor reportedly said in court on Nov. 28 that he would testify as part of a plea deal but gave no other details on it.
Hours after the hearing, Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) spokesperson Mahir Ünal described the trial as a “theater” staged with the help of U.S.-based Fethullah Gülen, accused of masterminding the July 2016 coup attempt.
Ünal repeated Ankara’s claims that U.S. judicial officials are “cooperating with Gülen against Turkey,” adding that “we know who has staged this play and what its aim is.”
The hearing comes after the judge in the trial of Atilla announced late on Nov. 27 that a jury of 12, including six alternates, had been selected and Zarrab would not face trial.
In the first session of the jury selection, 12 out of 82 jury candidates were determined.
The selected jurors were asked whether they had any links with the persons or organizations mentioned in the defense, prosecution and indictment as well as whether they had any positive or negative thoughts toward Muslims, Turkish or Iranian citizens.
The names of the jurors will remain private as Berman had previously asked the court translators to keep the names confidential.
In addition, jurors were also requested not to follow any news related to the case during the trial and not to speak to anyone about the case.
Earlier on Nov. 27, Berman said Zarrab would not face trial. Instead, Atilla will be the only defendant, Berman told jurors in Manhattan, adding the trial would last three to four weeks.
Zarrab was detained last year on charges of violating sanctions against Iran while Atilla was arrested in the U.S. earlier this year on similar sanctions violations charges.
Speaking on Nov. 27, Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdağ called on the U.S. administration to drop the case involving Zarrab.
“I am asking those judging the case in the U.S., do you have correct evidence against Reza Zarrab or not? The case lacks legal grounds and must be dropped or terminated,” Bozdağ said.
Turkey recently launched a probe against U.S. prosecutors connected to the Zarrab case.
Istanbul prosecutors accused former U.S. attorney for the southern district of New York Preet Bharara and Joon H. Kim, the district’s current acting attorney, of using information and documents from previous investigations in Turkey for an ongoing case in the U.S.
Bharara, who launched the probe into Zarrab, was fired on March 11 as part of a mass Trump administration expulsion of holdover U.S. attorneys.