Reza Zarrab has shifted from suspect to witness before trial: Turkish PM

Reza Zarrab has shifted from suspect to witness before trial: Turkish PM

Reza Zarrab has shifted from suspect to witness before trial: Turkish PM

The jailed Iranian-Turkish businessman Reza Zarrab has gone from being a suspect to a witness, Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım said on Nov. 22, referring to Zarrab’s ongoing trial in the U.S.

“The U.S. is putting pressure on those involved in the case to testify against Turkey and threaten Turkish interests. Those who were suspects are now witnesses. This is a human rights violation,” Yıldırım said at the Turkey Economy Summit in Istanbul.

“Turkey and the United States are two allies. So lawyers should do their job and politicians should do theirs. Let’s never allow lawyers to harm relations between the two countries,” he added.

Yıldırım described current bilateral troubles as “temporary,” while claiming that cases against Turkish citizens in the U.S. such as Zarrab were based on “groundless rumors and lies.”

“Turkey has never processed anything against domestic and international laws in its trade and exports,” he said.

He said any attempt to jeopardize Turkey’s economy or financial sector would be “in vain.”

“Our country does not need to seek approval to trade from anyone. Some countries can easily do business with a country on which they impose embargoes, but when Turkey does business [with the same country] it is considered a sign of guilt. Recently, the U.S. have made a deal with Iran to sell aircrafts, an agreement in principle. And then they accuse Turkey of breaking the blockade. Where is the law? Where is justice?” Yıldırım said.

Zarrab was arrested in the U.S. last year over charges that he conspired to conduct hundreds of millions of dollars in illegal financial transactions on behalf of the Iranian government and other entities to evade U.S. sanctions.

He is widely known in Turkey as his name appeared in the December 2013 corruption probes, which embroiled four former ministers and other state officials.

U.S. District Judge Richard M. Berman, who is overseeing the prosecution of Zarrab and Halkbank Deputy General Manager Hakan Atilla, said on Nov. 21 that the Turkish government should provide evidence to assist the defense instead of throwing criticism.

“The best way for them to be helpful is to help defense counsel by providing in court any evidence or witnesses they are aware of that could assist the defense,” Berman said.

Speaking at a news conference, acting U.S. Attorney Joon H. Kim said he was aware of claims that the prosecution was “being driven by domestic Turkish politics,” an accusation he calls “ridiculous.”

“Frankly, it displays a fundamental misunderstanding of how our justice system works,” he added.

Speaking at a pretrial hearing on Nov. 21, Cathy Fleming, one of Atilla’s attorneys, said secrecy rules limited the ability of the defense to prepare for trial, referring to the extreme sensitivity of one government witness, whom the defense had learned about under a court protective order.

“It handicaps us in terms of doing any investigation for cross-examination,” she said.

Zarrab has stopped appearing in court, prompting speculation that he is cooperating with the U.S. and may testify against his co-defendant Atilla.

Lawyers have refused to discuss Zarrab, though apparently he was the subject of a sealed court hearing on Nov. 20 when the trial was postponed until next week.