‘Zarrab speaks English,’ US prosecutor insists
AFP photoU.S. Attorney Preet Bharara has submitted an additional 222 pages of documents to a New York court to demonstrate that Reza Zarrab, an Iranian-born Turkish businessman who was arrested for attempting to evade U.S. sanctions on Iran, indeed speaks fluent English, as opposed to his lawyer’s claims. The documents included pages of WhatsApp instant messages which revealed the suspect’s English and Persian correspondences, in addition to his luxurious lifestyle.
The claims of Zarrab’s lawyer, Benjamin Brafman, were made during a bail hearing when he urged a U.S. judge to release his client from jail on a $50 million bond and to place him under house arrest in a 15th-floor apartment under 24-hour watch by armed guards, paid for at Zarrab’s personal cost.
In his bail argument, Brafman accused the prosecutor of not providing his client with a translator, although he demanded one, causing Zarrab to misunderstand the questions posed during his interrogation.
The U.S. attorney, however, advised against granting Zarrab bail, underlining the suspect was a flight risk, while also denying Brafman’s allegations.
A translator was indeed provided for Zarrab, Bharara said, even though the detainee was able to speak fluent English. He added that Zarrab spoke fluent Persian as well, despite the defense’s claims to the contrary.
This time, the prosecutor supported his claims by submitting to court over 200 pages of documents, including WhatsApp messages, demonstrating Zarrab’s English language skills and demanding a refusal of his bail request.
One of the documents was an e-commerce certificate issued to Zarrab for completing studies at the Carnegie Mellon University in Dubai.
Another was an application to gain citizenship from St. Kitts and Nevis with his wife, Ebru Gündeş, a famous Turkish singer. In his application, Zarrab declared that he spoke five languages, including English.
In addition to these documents, Bharara included Zarrab’s instant messages between Nov.1, 2015, and March 19, which revealed aspects of his luxurious lifestyle across a number of countries.
In arguing against Zarrab’s bail, Bharara also stressed that the suspect’s tremendous resources made him a flight risk, citing his ownership of businesses which generate $11 billion annually, an airplane, several homes and yachts.
The text messages revealed Zarrab had sent his private jet to Dubai to pick up a friend, after his friend’s jet malfunctioned. They also included details of the businessman’s expenditures, including 60,000 euros he spent to paint his yacht and 78,000 pound sterling in annual payments to a British nanny.
The messages included correspondences in both English and Persian.
Despite the evidence presented to the court, Brafman submitted another 25-page petition to the court and insisted on his argument that Zarrab did not have a full understanding of English.
Among the documents presented by Brafman was Zarrab’s 8th grade school report card, where his English grade was three out of five.
Zarrab was the prime suspect in a corruption and bribery scandal involving the Turkish government that went public on Dec. 17, 2013.
The businessman was accused of being the ringleader of a money laundering and gold smuggling ring in Turkey that circumvented sanctions against Iran. The charges were dismissed after the prosecutors investigating case were accused by the ruling party and then-Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of plotting against the government and removed from their posts.
Four former cabinet members, Bağış, Economy Minister Zafer Çağlayan, Interior Minister Muahmmer Güler and Urban Planning Minister Erdoğan Bayraktar, were accused in the probe before they were acquitted.