Turkish-Iranian businessman Reza Zarrab describes more bribery at US trial
Turkish-Iranian businessman Reza Zarrab, testifying at a trial in New York on Nov. 30, said he paid the head of a Turkish state-run bank tens of millions dollars in bribes to help Iran avoid economic sanctions. The multi-billion-dollar gold-for-oil scheme was allegedly designed to subvert U.S. sanctions on Iran.
Zarrab told a jury at the New York trial that Süleyman Aslan, general manager of Halkbank, demanded the secret payments for helping break the U.S. sanctions denying Iran oil and gas sale proceeds. Zarrab previously testified that the former Turkish Economy Minister Zafer Cağlayan was already skimming part the hefty profits Zarrab was making as the scheme’s middleman.
“This one is asking for money too,” Zarrab said of Aslan in a 2012 phone call with an associate, according to a transcript introduced as evidence at the trial.
In another transcript of a call around the same time, Zarrab claimed that Çağlayan had told him that the Turkish Prime Minister was aware of the sham gold trades that helped Iran gain access to the energy proceeds. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was prime minister at the time.
Zarrab had appeared in drab jail-style scrubs on Nov. 29 in his first day of testimony - a look that the judge questioned. When he stepped onto the witness stand on Nov. 30 for a second day, the witness was in a dark suit jacket and slacks, explaining his lawyers had told him he could wear a different outfit.
Halkbank has challenged the accusations. In a statement on Nov. 30, it insisted it “strictly adheres to national and international regulations” in all businesses and transactions.
Zarrab also used his second day of testimony to declare that he extended the multi-billion-dollar scheme to India and tried to do so in China.
“But then all the banks we were working with, they immediately stopped it when they realized it had something to do with Iran,” Zarrab testified.
Over two days of testimony, Zarrab has told jurors that he helped Iran use funds deposited at Halkbank to buy gold, which was smuggled to Dubai and sold for cash. On Nov. 30, he said that he had to stop the gold trades and start moving money through fake food purchases instead in 2013, after U.S. sanctions changed.
Zarrab is testifying against Halkbank’s former deputy general manager, Mehmet Hakan Atilla, after pleading guilty and agreeing to cooperate in hopes of getting a reduced sentence.
Zarrab has said that Atilla helped design the gold transactions, along with Aslan.
On Nov. 30, Zarrab discussed a 2013 phone call with Atilla about his plan to switch from gold trades to fake food sales.
He said Atilla did not understand at the time that no actual food would be sent to Iran, and was reluctant to sign off on the plan.
Zarrab said Aslan ordered Atilla to allow the transaction.
Atilla has pleaded not guilty to charges alleging he was Zarrab’s behind-the-scenes fixer for moving Iranian money through world banks, including U.S. financial institutions, in violation of the economic embargo. His lawyer, Victor Rocco, told jurors in an opening statement that Zarrab is “a liar, a cheat ... a one-man crime wave” while his client, by contrast, is not corrupt and took no bribes.
Zarrab testified on Nov. 30 that he never bribed Atilla because he was already bribing his boss and the economy minister.